While there is varying opinion about what qualifies as 4G (4th generation mobile connectivity) data, the reality is, it is here (or so the PR folks would like you to believe). This explanation will hopefully shed some light on what is sure to be the biggest tech buzzs word of 2011.
LTE, meaning Long Term Evolution, is the variety Verizon has been touting for a while and AT&T just announced today. It is SIM card based (like current GSM carriers AT&T and T-Mobile) meaning, in theory, you'll be able to swap from device-to-device with relative ease. Without getting overly techy, LTE can theoretically peek at 100 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up, which, to over simplify, is insane. To give you a comparison, my relatively zippy home network sucks down 20 up and can upload at 10 Mbps. So yeah, it is fast. But these are theoretical, how are they going to translate in the real world? Not going off of press releases, but based on this writers experienced speeds using Verizon's 4G LTE network, I've been getting 20 down and 6 up, which, coincidentally makes blogging from the road at CES, and writing this post, much easier.
All sounds great, right? Can't wait to pick up your 4G phone? As of this writing, Verizon or AT&T have not yet released any LTE phones, although many have been promised. Verizon traditionally has been a CDMA carrier, meaning there was no SIM card used or needed with its 3G EVDO network, so the transition to a GSM (SIM Card) based tech will not be without its hitches. First, when phones are available with the technology, they won't be using LTE for voice, instead they will revert back to the older CDMA tech. Verizon has not come clear if this means users will be able to use voice and data simultaneously, but as soon as we have final word, we'll update this post. What this also means, is those of you using LTE to browse the web, will revert back to an older EVDO technology when LTE is not available, which will translate to a severe drop in speed (Even on Rev A which gives real world speeds of up to 3 down).
This brings us to AT&T. The carrier has lagged behind in their 4G rollout (Mid 2011 for some markets, end of 2012-2013 for the rest) but if you believe the hype, that is because they were busy allocating resources on their HSPA + network (more on that below), which will let users fall back to speeds in the 6Mbps range, and not experience just a huge drop in speed. This will allow for simultaneous voice and data (as AT&T currently has) and a theoretical seamless speed transition.
So pick your poison here. An already established and growing Verizon LTE network with a slow legacy network, or wait it out for AT&T and their faster HSPA + as a fall back. As for me, I'd like both please.