On Call runs every two weeks, alternating between answering reader questions and discussing hot topics in the cell phone world.
It wasn't so long ago that the cell phone world was just transitioning to 3G technology. But now, just as we're getting settled, the ever-restless industry is moving on again. Fourth-generation technology, or 4G, is gaining traction and carriers are promising even faster data speeds.
So what is 4G? To start, think of wireless technology as a family that gets faster with each generation. Second-generation (2G) networks were faster than the original first-generation wireless technology; third-generation (3G) is faster than 2G; and 4G is faster than 3G. Speed is important for data transmission (not so much for voice) because a faster network lets you do more with your phone. The 3G networks that we use today allow us to stream video, download music tracks and other large files, and surf the Web on full HTML browsers. Think of it like moving from a dial-up Internet connection to cable or DSL--suddenly you could do more with your computer and do it faster.
That's why it's easiest to think of 4G not in terms of what it is, but rather in terms of what it can do. While 3G offers data speeds of about 1.5 to 2 megabits per second (Mbps), 4G will double that--and it could go even faster. It's important to remember, however, that promises are just that. As any iPhone user can tell you, 3G speeds can vary widely in everyday use, so 4G performance won't always be perfect.… Read more