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November 10, 2010

To G4 or Not to G4, That is the Question

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

You’ve probably seen or heard the advertisements for the new G4 cellular data network coming to the US. It’s all bunk.

G4 refers to the network data speed. Supposedly it’s one generation faster than the clunky-old, obsoletely, you’re a noob if you use it, G3 network.

Or is it?

Some review: The first cellular network was analog, no data. Therefore that one doesn’t count.

2G. The second generation of cell phone data service,and the first digital service, was called 2G. It basically means “second generation.” The first generation, analog, was dubbed 1G after the 2G standard came out.

2.5G. The next version of the 2G standard was called 2.5G. It’s also known as GPRS, which stands for General Packet Radio Service (as if anyone cares). The data speed could be as fast as 153.6 kpbs, though typically you’ll see only 80-100 kbps.

2.75G. Though not good enough for a next generation, the 2.75G standard is known as EDGE, which stands for (brace yourself) Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution.


The EDGE networks could transmit data at rates up to 1 mbps (megabits per second) though a typical user sees something more in the 400 kbps range.

3G. The third generation was dubbed 3G. It’s the current standard. The transmission rate for 3G isn’t solidly defined, though the minimum data rate must be greater than 200 kbps. Theoretically it can go as high as 2Mbps, though that rate is achieved only when you’re stationary. In a car, for example, your data rate may be 1/7th that speed.

There are also 3.5G and 3.75G standards, but no carrier in the US is boasting about those standards, so I’m going to merrily skip over them.

4G. The fourth generation standard is nebulous. Theoretically data transmission can go as fast as 1Gbps (gigabits per second). That’s smokin’.

5G. Yeah, there’s a fifth generation standard as well. No one knows what it is, other than it’s the next logical name for a cell phone data transmission standard. No point in dawdling here.

Meanwhile, back to 4G.

The phones that you see advertised as “4G” in the US aren’t really true 4G phones. While it’s true that the data transmission speeds are faster than 3G, they’re not really up to the gigabit-per-second range that you would expect from a true, fourth-generation data network.

Another problem with the so-called 4G phones is that there just isn’t the 4G data infrastructure out there to support them.

Now, maybe the phones can do the full 4G thing, and they will — when the network gets built up. For now, however, paying a premium price for a “4G” phone doesn’t get you anything special.

Well, other than a higher cell phone bill.

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