4G and LTE: everything you need to know

4G mobile broadband and LTE explained
4G is here to stay. Here's everything you need to know

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 mostly use the 700MHz 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2300MHz spectrums.

That said, the networks are constantly testing, trialling and expanding their networks on other frequencies. Vodafone has 850MHz spectrum running LTE, while Telstra and Optus have both tested 2600MHz..

When Apple launched the iPad3 and claimed it offered 4G, it was only available on the 700MHz and 2100MHz spectrums. Because no Australian carrier offered those frequencies for LTE at the time, 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.

Nowadays, phones are launching with support for many different LTE bands not just from AUstralia, but also around the world. It will be a rare case that you buy a phone promising LTE support to find you can't enjoy the high speeds that 4G services offer.

Having spent the past decade editing some of Australia's leading technology publications, Nick's passion for the latest gadgetry is matched only by his love of watching Australia beat England in the rugby.