Good Question: What is 4G?

Written by Alan GionetDENVER (CBS4) – There are signs up all over. 4G this, 4G that.

“I don’t know what it means but I know what it does,” said a guy on the street with earphones on and several devices in his hands. “I hope it’s 4G, It’s what I paid for,” said 20-something user. Even the most techno-sophisticated among us may not have a clue about 4G.

To guys like the University of Colorado’s Tim Brown, it does make sense.

“The first generation systems were analog phones. The second generation was going to digital. Third generation was going to digital voice with the data added and other services added. And the 4G is this complete teardown of all the previous systems and starting over with a broadband IP network.”

Brown is a professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering at CU … of course that all makes sense to him. But how would you put it in layman’s terms we asked?

“So it’s a lot like going from the rural highway where you have roads crossing and traffic lights to a modern superhighway where you have overpasses,” said Brown.

3G used a divided pipe. Some parts are devoted to phone calls like sidewalks are devoted to people. Other parts run data packets, like cars on a road.

In 4G, everything is going packets. That means it’s like a limited access highway. There are no parts devoted to pedestrians, it’s all cars traveling at highway speeds.

The problem for 3G and previous networks, says Brown, is that they were getting overloaded.

“As we get more and more users it’s like more and more cars on the road. And that … worked great when you only had a few users, but you got more and more users, more and more people trying to cross over more and more backups on the traffic lights where they want to cross over.”

Brown goes back to the superhighway description explaining that 4G has the equivalent of overpasses. That helps keep things moving.

So why aren’t things seemingly all that much better?

“The 4G is just being rolled out right now so it’s not everywhere. So you can buy a 4G phone and immediately you may not see a lot of difference because it’s not deployed everywhere.”

And things may be about as good as they get in Denver relative to other cities — even if you don’t think your service is so hot.

The data company Root Metrics tested the top carriers in dozens of big cities, including Denver.

Root Metrics found Verizon’s data speeds significantly higher than the others.

Their scores were as follows:

Verizon 93
T-Mobile 41
AT&T 24
Sprint 11
Cricket – um, 3

Verizon also came out on top in Root Metrics rankings for calls and texting, but the scores were closer there.

And even if you’re frustrated with the speed of that fancy phone, it could be worse.

Denver has better data speeds than many of the other cities in the country.

LINK: Root Metrics study of wireless quality in Denver


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