Unpacking 4G, Long Term Evolution

econetTonderai Rutsito Tech Spot
In recent months there has been talk that the country is moving to 4G and Long Term Evolution (LTE). There is a widely held belief that the two are one and the same which essentially have led to people assuming that Fourth Generation (4G) is now available in Zimbabwe. However this is not correct, we are not there yet maybe all we have is Long Term Evolution (LTE) for now and not 4G.

Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, which is spearheading the introduction of 4G together with NetOne, says it is now at a much advanced stage to officially unveil their high speed 4G capable network. Although LTE and 4G is used one word and interchangeably used, this is only for marketing purposes, but for the purpose of our tech savvy readers, the two are not one but two different technologies.

Internationally, 4G technology is still a fairly new product while in the UK it was introduced only in 2012 and in Zimbabwe most Mobile Network Operators (MNO) are still relying on 2.5g and 3G/UMTS technology, which is now more than 10 years old, hence there is now a real demand for higher speeds and upgrades.

As defined by the radio sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R), LTE stands for “Long Term Evolution” and applies more generally to the idea of improving wireless broadband speeds to meet increasing demand, while 4G is the advanced stage of LTE which was designed to beat most fixed broadband we have at home.

What is 4G?
Here is a very simple way to separate the technologies expagorated by digital trends, the ITU-R set standards for 4G connectivity in March of 2008, requiring all services described as 4G to adhere to a set of speed and connection standards.  For mobile use including smartphones and tablets, connection speeds need to have a peak of at least 100 megabits per second, and for more stationary uses such as fixed mobile hotspots, at least 1 gigabit per second.

What is LTE ?
LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, and isn’t as much as technology as it is the path followed to achieve 4G speeds. As it stands, most of the time when your phone displays the “4G” symbol in the upper right corner, it doesn’t really mean it. When the ITU-R set the minimum speeds for 4G, they were a bit unreachable despite the amount of money tech manufacturers put into achieving them.

In response, the regulating body decided that LTE, the name given to the technology used in pursuit of those standards, could be labelled as 4G if it provided a substantial improvement over the 3G technology. Unfortunately, when most companies grabbed the technology, they quickly called it 4G even when their platforms could not offer such a speed, but maybe slightly higher than the standard 3G hence this is actually LTE.
While all the 4G talk seems to be about network calling services, the fact is that 4G has nothing really to do with voice calling as it is just a feature to enable

Internet based services to be quickly accessed by your handset and the next big move will be taking the normal GSM voice based call over the 4G seamlessly making it VoIP, hence cheaper for the network but has been greatly resisted since it automatically removes voice billing which is more profitable.
The difference is that voice networks still use circuit-switching technology and billed differently while data services use packet-switching which is cheaper and has more opportunities.

Why you need 4G or LTE
I guess by now the reasons are obvious, your phone or connected gadget will become way too faster to download anything from the internet. The difference is so significant that it can be a minimum of 10 times faster.
This is mind blowing when you begin to watch live video streaming of any movie, soccer match or if you are a content creator like TechnoMag you can easily stream any event live to your audience without buffering. This sounds like fibre optic cable direct to your mobile device.
For Econet, they boast of seamless connectivity where you do not need to get an LTE line but simply connect if your handset is capable and more importantly they are still charging the same fees.

What`s the best handset to access 4G?
For one to actually get the real 4G experience, it takes two main components which comprise the network that can support the necessary high speeds and a terminal device or handset that can access the technology. Handsets may look all the same from outside but the inside technology is now worth knowing since you are about to make the next best informed decision. The market currently offers CDMA, GSM, LTE and WiMax capable handsets.
Mainly because Econet has officially announced their 4G roll-out in most cities while NetOne is silently finalising the infrastructure, subscribers only need to have a 4G/LTE capable smartphone so that one can start experiencing the difference.

Now because of the massive campaign for 4G technology, subscribers should not just buy any smartphone but rather an LTE capable handset. Thank goodness we do already have those on the market with Gtel`s SL5.5 and Huawei coming quick to my mind. Huawei however, is promising the cheapest LTE capable handset under $200, a move which they are already pushing with Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. International brands which are already LTE or 4G capable include iPhone 5S, HTC One (M8), Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z2, Google Nexus 5, LG G, iPhone 5C, Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, HTC One Mini

Is “true 4G” practical
The ugly truth is technically, no company in the world is offering a true 4G experience for consumers, but LTE-A has been fully implemented and this is what we may expect according to our few tests we did in Harare. However current LTE data plans are way too faster than the older 3G networks that we have in most areas in Zimbabwe.

Why the 4G frequency bands matter?
While we can talk about these high speeds, it’s also important to understand the technologies involved as this can easily tell you how feasible, faster or wider 4G network coverage can be depending on their frequency allocation. In Zimbabwe, NetOne made a good move by buying the 700 MHz which will mean larger coverage using fewer base stations while Econet and Telecel are still on the 2.6 GHz frequency.

The latter means stronger signal for cities and densely populated areas but it won’t traverse for longer distance and it cannot go through over many building or trees, hence the need to invest in more base stations. The 1800MHz band strikes a balance between coverage and capacity (falling between the extremes of the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands) which makes it a good ‘‘middle-ground’’ for getting 4G around the country.

The writer is the editor for TechnoMag, Zimbabwe`s Premiere Technology Magazine, More In depth from www.technomag.co.zw follow us on our social platforms Twitter: @TechnoMagZw, Facebook: www.facebook.com/technomagzw

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