Why it's time to get pumped about LTE Advanced 4G

UPDATED: As O2 and Vodafone switch on their 4G signals, we're already looking for a bigger speed fix: LTE-Advanced is 4G's faster, sexier sibling

4G – you've heard about it, lusted after it, but unless you're on EE or have just upgraded with O2 or Vodafone, chances are you haven't tried it.

But guess what? Plain old 4G's over. Or, to be more accurate, the type of LTE technology that '4G' has referred to up 'til now has been superceded by the faster LTE-Advanced. Here we explain why embracing the new tech could be to your continuing happiness.

Why should I want LTE-Advanced?

Because you don't like waiting for videos to download, webpages to refresh or your streamed tunes to buffer. 4G LTE brings faster data speeds to your phone or tablet – theoretically up to 100Mbps, compared to the most exotic DC-HSDPA variety of 3G's laboratory maximum of 42Mbps – but LTE-Advanced utterly smokes even that, with a top theoretical speed of up to 3Gbps. That's three times as fast as your work Ethernet network.

In real life you'll get nowhere near that; in fact, the 'Cat 4' LTE-equipped Snapdragon 800 chip in the new Samsung Galaxy S4 tops out at 'a mere' 150Mbps, and the signal it receives is likely to peak at less than 100Mbps where LTE-Advanced is even available. But compare that to the 12Mbps average broadband speed in the UK, EE LTE's 10Mbps (rising to 20Mbps in some cities this summer) and 3G's 2.6Mbps average, and you get an idea of what LTE-Advanced could be capable of.

I don't actually. Spell it out for me

With a stable 100Mbps connection you could stream a pair of 4K movies at full 3840x2160 resolution simultaneously. You could download an MP3 in 0.6 seconds. Or, if you want to look at it this way, you could burn your 2GB data limit in less than three minutes. And you thought watching the odd Youtube video was dangerous.

More after the break...

Cat 4, LTE, 4G - this is a brain-melt

It's really quite simple. 4G is a catch-all term for fourth-generation mobile phone communication technology standards, and LTE is the pervasive 4G technology. LTE itself is split into eight categories that offer varying maximum speeds: Cat 1 will do about 10Mbps, Cat 4 will do 150Mbps, and Cat 8 is the version that tops out at 3Gbps. Anything above Cat 3 is LTE-Advanced. Remember when the Nokia N95 rocked on to the scene with its fancy new 3G HSDPA chip? Consider LTE-Advanced to be a similar magnitude of upgrade from 'normal' 4G. 

As for LTE itself, that stands for 'Long-Term Evolution'. You probably don't need to know that, but what you should know is that LTE covers a range of broadcast frequencies, so even if you have a 4G contract at home, your 4G LTE phone may not work with the 4G LTE network you're trying to access in, say, the USA. 

I want it. Now would be good. When's LTE-Advanced coming to my network?

Patience. LTE-Advanced is currently available only to a select few on Russia's Yota network, so Colchester's going to have to wait a bit longer.

EE's CEO Olaf Swantee has promised it'll be testing 300Mbps LTE on its existing network before the end of 2013, so perhaps the UK will see a limited LTE-Advanced service launching in early 2014. We're yet to get any form of 4G service from Three, while Vodafone and O2 launched their standard 4G LTE services to select cities on 29 August. 

Of course, you'll need a suitable device to make the most of it. While 4G LTE has become the norm - the HTC OneSony Xperia Z, BlackBerry Z10Nokia Lumia 925 and Apple iPhone 5 all support it, as do tablets such as the iPad 4 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and mobile Wi-Fi widgets like Huawei's E589 - LTE-Advanced devices start and end with the Huawei Ascend P2, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and the LG G2. Only the former is currently available.

But if there are networks that support the technology next year, the devices will start coming thick and fast. From now on in, LTE-Advanced should be top of any spec sheet worth considering.

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