The Case for LTE: 4 Reasons Why You Need 4G

Recent surveys indicate that smartphones users don't care about 4G/LTE cellular networks and the faster data speeds they offer. But most of these people have probably never used an LTE device. Depending on where you live and how you use your smartphone, 4G/LTE can matter a whole lot. Here's why.

Tue, September 04, 2012

CIO — If you're in the market for a new smartphone or if you simply keep an eye on the latest and greatest mobile devices, you've probably heard a lot about 4G and LTE.

But does 4G/LTE really matter to the average smartphone user?

Various US Wireless Carrier 4G LTE Logos

Last year, I would have answered "No, not really." In fact, I wrote a blog post explaining why I was resisting LTE back in November 2011. But after using a few different LTE devices for a number of months, I changed my mind, and there's no turning back now. I'll explain why, but first I want to clear up some confusion.

Not all 4G is created equal. For example, carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile call their HSPA+ networks "4G." I tend to think of HSPA+ as "faux G" or 3.5G, which is faster than HSPA and EDGE, but not nearly as fast as LTE. Then there's WiMax, which is technically true 4G, but it still isn't as reliable or as fast as LTE. WiMax coverage in the United States is also much more limited than LTE coverage.

The majority of major U.S. wireless carriers now have LTE networks, but individual LTE-network coverage varies widely by geographic area. And data speeds can also be very different depending on your location. (T-Mobile is the only major U.S. carrier without an LTE network; the company says it will launch its LTE network in 2013.)

For this article, I'm referring to the benefits of LTE 4G. I live in the Boston area, and I'm lucky enough to have relatively widespread AT&T and Verizon Wireless LTE coverageI'm not a Sprint customer, so I'm not familiar with Sprint's LTE in Boston. On average, I see AT&T and Verizon download speeds of more than 20 Mbps and sometimes up to 40 Mbps. And I get average uploads between 5 Mbps and 20 Mbps. For context, these data speeds are at least three to four times faster than the average HSPA+ speeds I see on AT&T and T-Mobile.

That's all fine and good, but the question here isn't whether or not LTE is faster than HSPA+ or CDMA Rev. A or EDGE. It definitely is. The question is whether the faster speeds matter to average users.

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