Why Would I Need 4G? A Guide to LTE

01 June 2012

There is a lot of confusion right now as to just what exactly 4G is, where you can get it and why one would need it. Essentially when people use the term “4G” in Australia they’re talking about an LTE wireless broadband network.

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and it’s the next phase in wireless broadband in terms of speed. Simply put 4G LTE is just like 3G but is faster, more expensive and is covered in less areas than 3G networks currently are. Right now the only provider of 4G LTE in Australia is Telstra and the Telstra 4G network, while expanding, is still only available in selected metro areas.

A Common Misconception Regarding 4G

Many people are concerned right now that because 4G technology only has limited range that they will be left without a wireless internet connection when they’re out of city centres. This is not true. 4G devices also have 3G support. On Telstra if a 4G network cannot be detected the device will immediately transfer to Telstra’s NextG (slightly faster than traditional 3G) network. If the NextG network cannot be found then standard 3G will be used and so forth until absolutely no networks can be detected.

In short a 4G device can run on any of Telstra’s wireless broadband networks and will use the fastest network within range.

Why Would I Want 4G Over 3G?

In areas where 4G LTE is supported it is a much, much faster alternative to 3G technologies. Speeds as high as 30Mbps down have been recorded in Sydney and other enabled zones. Most users in strongly supported areas seem to be seeing speeds of between 15 and 20 Mbps down right now, but these figures are subject to change as more users start to clog up the airwaves. Speeds also vary hugely depending on how close a user is to a transmission tower, as LTE has a very short range.

To put these speeds in perspective the max speed of ADSL2+ landline broadband is around 22Mbps, with most users seeing between 10 and 18Mbps down. So in supported areas 4G LTE can exceed the maximum speeds of ADSL2+ broadband.

In contrast 3G technologies have offered a max of 8Mbps down in Australia with most users seeing between 1 and 4Mbps down.

You can see now how much faster 4G is than 3G, which in itself speaks as a reason for its adoption. However, right now 4G reception is not particularly far-spread. There’s a very good chance that your home is not very close to an LTE network and as such you might not be get the most out of a connection.

4G is generally best for people who live in, work in or spend a lot of time in LTE metro areas. Remember, even though 4G devices also work on 3G networks if you’re within range of a 4G network then you could be paying the extra money for an LTE connection without seeing many benefits.

Should I Get 4G For My Home?

Where possible we would suggest people still opt for a landline connection for their homes. There are exceptions, like if you don’t use the internet often but do need to use it when on the road. It’s also a great option if you don’t think you’ll be living in the same place for the length of another broadband contract.

The reason we suggest landlines where possible is because 4G is currently expensive and wireless broadband is historically less reliable than landline connections.

Wireless broadband can be affected by a number of things, even the weather. It might not work in every room of your house or could see a huge drop in speed when used indoors. Landlines are solid, cheaper, come with larger data plans, work wherever you wire them to with equal effectiveness and most of all they’re proven. We’re all for adopting new technologies, but when it comes to choosing between two options for home use that have relatively the same speed but one is cheaper and has a history of working then we’ll go with the old school every time.

If you want to be able to use devices wirelessly at home then landlines allow you to do that. Most modems these days come with built-in WiFi support, so you’ll still be able to connect devices to your landline connection wirelessly.

Right now it’s doubtful that 4G is available in too many regions where ADSL2+ is not an option, so this isn’t a zoning issue.

The only people we can think of who would be benefited by using 4G LTE as their home connection at this stage are:

  • Only people who live in a 4G LTE enabled area (obviously)
  • People who do not require a large data cap and who also want a portable wireless broadband connection.
  • People who move house often.
  • Anyone who already has 3G broadband as their home connection and is satisfied with it but would be willing to pay more for increased speed.

That’s it really. At the current stage of the market we’d recommend that anyone else stick with ADSL2+ or Optical Cable landline broadband solutions.

Best Uses for 4G Right Now

As things currently sit we wouldn’t recommend 4G LTE as a home connection over a landline option in most instances. Only those who find themselves within the bullet points listed above should really be considering it.

Right now 4G is best used as an alternative to 3G. 4G smartphones and devices will increase in availability in Australia as the market grows.

There are also portable 4G WiFi hotspots available. These devices receive the 4G LTE signal and push it out to your devices via a short range WiFi connection. That means that you can connect your phone, your laptop and your tablet to the same little pocket-sized 4G device. It’s important to remember that WiFi tends to slow down internet connections, but in well supported areas you should see similar speeds to an ADSL2+ WiFi network.


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