4G and LTE: everything you need to know

Curious about 4G in Australia? TechRadar explains all

4G mobile broadband and LTE explained

LTE has quickly gone from a pipedream to an everyday feature in Australia.

The technology has now involved to include LTE-Advance, TD-LTE and carrier aggregation, with trials for LTE-Broadcast and in-flight 4G use also being conducted.

But what exactly is 4G? How do you get it? How is it different between networks? And what is ahead of us? This is TechRadar's ultimate guide to 4G in Australia.

What is 4G?

Simply put, 4G stands for 4th generation. It's the fourth major technology in mobile telecommunications and delivers faster data speeds than the 3G technologies.

Confusingly, 4G can refer to two different technologies - WiMax and LTE. In Australia though, it's almost exclusively used to refer to LTE, or what's known as Long Term Evolution.

Australia did have a WiMax operator in the form of Vividwireless, right up until the point they were bought out by Optus in early 2012. Optus is now using the spectrum gained through the acquisition to enhance its own LTE network, meaning that WiMax is, for all intends and purposes, obsolete in Australia.

Like previous generations of mobile technology 4G LTE works across a number of different frequencies depending on where you are in the world. In Australia, the current LTE networks use the 1800MHz spectrum.

That said, Optus has also rolled a 2300MHz network in Canberra, while both Telstra and Optus will be launching services on the 700MHz in 2015 thanks to wins in the digital dividend auction.

When Apple launched the iPad3 and claimed it offered 4G, it was only available on the 700MHz and 2100MHz spectrums. Because no Australian carrier offers those frequencies for LTE, the ACCC took Apple to task, forcing them to change the name to "Wi-Fi + Cellular".

The good news is that Apple learnt its lesson from the experience, with subsequent launches supporting available LTE spectrum in Australia.

Interestingly, however, neither the iPhone 5S or 5C support the 700MHz spectrum band, which could prove a bit difficult for those stuck in a 24-month Telstra and Optus plan, as you will likely not benefit from the new spectrum band being switched on.