As of November 2010, Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) and 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) are marketed as 4G networks and are considered by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as candidate technologies for 4G. High Speed Packet Access (HSPA+) networks are also marketed in the US as a 4G network though it is not recognised by the ITU.
Pure Data Network
The current 3G mobile network handle both voice and data separately. One of the most significant changes to the 4G network is that is a data network, transferring Internet Protocol (IP) data packets. A completely data based network will allow for more bandwidth which means more data can be passed through the network.
In October 2010, the ITU set the standard for 4G networks to have a peak data download speed of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) in mobile applications such as mobile phones and roaming network devices and 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) in local, fixed locations.
As of November 2010, no network technology can claim that it meets these standards though all the networks currently marketed as 4G do surpass current 3G speeds which tops out at 1 Mbps. The current WiMAX 802.16 standard, used mostly by Sprint and ClearMobile, has a current top speed of 3.0 Mbps while LTE has a theoretical maximum top speed of 12 Mbps.
Current 3G network technology range is approximately 10 miles under optimum conditions. 4G candidate WiMAX currently has a range of up to 31 miles under optimum conditions.
Though current 3G networks do have the ability to transfer data, when a user leaves a 3G coverage area for another, the data transfer may be halted or stopped due compatibility issues. The improved 4G network standards will eliminate this, allowing for smooth hand off from one coverage area to another without interruption to any ongoing data transfers. This will result in smooth streaming data for the user.
More Devices and Applications
Unlike current 3G smartphones and netbooks, which are light in processing power, 4G network devices can take advantage of the higher bandwidth and speeds to deliver more robust and data heavy applications. One of the most anticipated uses of the 4G network is to be able to deliver high definition, digital television to a handheld device. Other anticipated applications include portable online gaming, improved GPS and telemedicine.