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Understanding how 4G works

All these adverts by the different telecos like MTN, Vodafone, airtel and africel  about how they offer 4G internet connectivity has gotten me curious, apart from increased internet speed, what else does 4G have to offer and even so how does 4G work.

For starters if what you’re getting from your service provider to your hand held device is not 4G LTE (or WiMAX if your using a modem or router) then run because that is not pure 4G. Telecos in some countries market speeds faster than 3G like  HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) or HSPA (3.5G) which is up to five times faster than 3G and in some cases WCDMA (3.9G) as 4G.

For mobile users, 4G connectivity is based on the LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard or LTE advanced which is an improvement of LTE. Theoretically a pure 4G LTE network can provide speeds of up to 100 Mbps which is between 10 – 50 times faster than a 3G network. One of the reason why 4G is faster than 3G networks is that CDMA (the way of getting many signals to share frequencies by coding them) is replaced by a more efficient technology called orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA), which makes even better use of the frequency spectrum.

Because of the improved efficiency, LTE has a very low latency (about 20 micro Seconds) which means if you’re playing an online game, streaming a live event, video chatting, controlling a drone or another device over a 4G network, you get a better experience. Another factor noted, is during file transfer (upload and download) 3G transfer rates tend to ramp up over time, while 4G speeds remain consistently fast from the beginning to end of a download.

One question that one would ask is; if 4G is faster and better why not completely phase out 2G and 3G. Despite being faster, voice calls are still being transmitted over 3G/2G networks. Trials are taking place to upgrade the 4G networks to have voice capabilities, but this could take several years to implement.

Also 4G networks are still slowly rolling out to regional areas, (MTN leading with 75 LTE in the country) meaning that 3G/2G still provides the backbone coverage in many less populous areas across the country. In addition, one would have to buy a 4G enabled device to access 4G connectivity hence this makes the service pricey.

One should also understand that one don’t pay more for 4G than one does for 3G but since your transferring more data your data bundles will last for shorter time than when on 3G. Your phones battery will also take a beating since 4G requires more power.

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