My current phone--a Motorola Droid X--is eligible for an upgrade at the end of June, so in order to be ready for that event, I need to start my research now.
I'm a Verizon Wireless guy. I have been since I got my very first cell phone, and I have no desire to change service providers. If you want a recommendation for a wireless company, mine is Verizon Wireless. I have no first-hand experience with any other provider, so I have nothing to offer in comparison other than horror stories I've heard from friends, but I've had good luck with Verizon Wireless as far as customer service and ease of understanding and paying my bill. In my little corner of the world--the Indianapolis metropolitan area--and in all the other places I travel, the coverage has never failed me.
So at least I don't have to research that aspect of a cell phone. I'm sticking with Verizon Wireless.
So that puts my starting point on research at: What is 4G?
What is 4G?
I was at my favorite local watering hole, Chuck's Garage, the other day. I'm good friends with the proprietor of this fine establishment--who, coincidentally, is named Chuck--and as we were watching "Swamp People" or "Full Metal Jousting" or some other show that amuses us, we saw one of the many commercials out there advertising a 4G network for wireless customers.
Chuck, being the inquisitive guy that he is, asked, "What is 4G, anyway?"
I, being the educated guy that I am, replied, "Hell if I know."
I looked at my trusty Droid X and noticed a little "3G" at the top of the screen. Apparently 4G is one more G than I currently have. We tried to come up with what 3G and 4G might mean. Gigabytes? Grams? Our most creative idea was that 3G probably means Girls, Girls, Girls. 4G, however, left us at a loss.
Well, as it turns out the G stands for "generation." 4G, then, is the fourth generation of wireless technology.
From what I've been able to gather, those enormous cell phones of the 1980s were 1G--the first generation of technology that allowed us to speak to each other wirelessly over an analog network. On down the road, 2G came along, offering us a digital network that permitted the use of cell phones for e-mail and text messaging.
With 3G, we were introduced to smartphones and the ability to send and receive data--accessing websites, downloading apps, watching videos, GPS navigation, stuff like that.
Now we have 4G. So what's different about 4G? Kim Komando of USA Today wrote an article last month that didn't make my eyes completely glaze over with all the technical-speak. She writes, "With 4G technology, the distinction between voice and data goes away. It essentially turns a cellular phone into a Voice-over-IP system. That means faster, clearer communication."
I don't have a clue what a voice-over-IP system is, but I understand that last sentence just fine: faster and clearer. That's really all I need to know.
Exactly how much faster is 4G than 3G, though? Am I just upgrading from a 3-speed bicycle to a 10-speed?
Data Rates (how fast data loads on your phone)
In geek-speak, data is measured in units called bits. For the sake of this conversation, there are one million bits, or 1,000 kilobits, in a megabit. There are 1,000 megabits in a gigabit, so that works out to one million kilobits in a gigabit, and about ... um ... a whole boatload of bits in a gigabit.
Note that there is a difference between megabit and megabyte. (Hey, I wasn't the one who named the darn things.) Megabit (one million bits; 1,000 kilobits) is abbreviated Mbit or Mb. Megabyte (1,048,576 bits; 1,024 kilobytes) is abbreviated MB. (Again, I didn't choose the abbreviations for these darn things.)
In terms of data rates, you'll likely see the abbreviations Mbit/s or Mbps. Either abbreviation stands for "megabits per second."
I apologize for the impromptu math lesson, but it's important to understand for the sake of understanding just how much faster 4G is than 3G. From what I've been able to figure out after reading through countless websites and message boards, 3G offers data rates varying from 384 Kbps (kilobits per second) to 2 Mbps.
In theory, 4G offers the possibility of transmitting data at a rate of between 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps (that's gigabits per second). Realistically speaking, though, given the current sophistication of the network across the U.S., customers can probably expect data transfer at a rate somewhere around 20 Mbps or so.
So using the realistic speed of 4G, we're looking at 4G being somewhere between 10 and 50 times faster than 3G. If we go with the theoretical speed of 4G, now we're talking an increase of somewhere between 260 and 500 times faster than 3G.
That's not trading in a 3-speed for a 10-speed. That's trading in a 3-speed for a Maserati.
What is 4G LTE?
Another hurdle I ran into while looking at Verizon Wireless phones is that they offer some phones with "4G LTE" capabilities. What is LTE?
Thanks to Ms. Komando, I now know that it stands for Long Term Evolution. From what I gather, LTE is a variety of 4G, much like there was once Blu-ray movie formats and HD DVD movie formats. There is apparently something called an HPSA+ network and a WiMAX network, too.
Falling back on Ms. Komando, she says, "Although marked as 4G, HSPA+ and WiMAX are more like souped-up 3G. If you're going to be buying a smartphone in the near future, it's important to know exactly what you're getting. It's also a good idea to check whether you're in a 4G LTE coverage area (or will be soon)."
Lucky for me, Verizon Wireless offers an interactive coverage map on their website, and even luckier for me, Indianapolis is one of the 230 cities covered by their 4G LTE network, and I'm one of the over 200 million people who can get it. The other city to which I travel a great deal--Chicago--is also covered.
With that bit of research, I'm worn out for today. The conclusion I've come to is that 4G is something I want when I upgrade my phone, and 4G LTE sounds like the best of three varieties of 4G, so my desire to stick with Verizon Wireless as my provider is a good one because they offer 4G LTE, and they offer it in my area.
Next, I have to figure out what kind of device I want. That'll be a project for another day.
(For the next step, "What Verizon Wireless phones are out there?" click here.)