Recently MTN, GLO and Etisalat Upgraded their Network Services to 4G LTE . You’ve heard, probably seen it plastered across
billboards, and read about it on your cellphone . But the question remains, what is 4G LTE, and how do its speeds and coverage compare to other 3G and 4G networks?
A History of 3G and 4G
In order to understand what LTE is–beyond “a really fast network”–
we have to take a little step back in time.
When the 3G, or 3rd generation, standard was the best thing in
the early 2000s–it made accessing the internet on your phone
significantly faster and more convenient.
3G is required to meet IMT-2000 (International Mobile
Telecommunications-2000) technical standards, which means
a peak download rate of 200 Kbps, or 0.2 Mbps. This will obviously
seem slow to you now, but at the time, it was enough to get your email in a timely fashion.
So logically, the next step after 3G–the third generation of
wireless mobile communications technology–would be 4G, or
the fourth generation. The the ITU Radiocommunications
Sector (ITU-R) set some requirements as to what would
constitute a 4G network: it must provide peak 100 Mbps
downloads if you’re using a mobile device such as a phone or
tablet. Stationary devices, such as mobile hotspots,
should be able to provide peaks speeds of 1 Gbps.
In recent years, 3G has really made some admirable advancements. High Speed Packet Access (HSPA), for example, can give
theoretical speeds up to 7.2 Mbps, and is often called 3.5G
or Turbo 3G.
Then came 4G, in the form of Evolved High Speed Packet
Access (HSPA+), and Long-Term Evolution (LTE). Only HSPDA+ was marketed as 3.75G while LTE
was marketed this as “4G”, even though both didn’t meet the
ITU’s standards–neither reached that 100 Mbps download rate.
LTE, however, wasn’t just another improvement of 3G. It
was meant to be more of an umbrella term given to the
technologies designed to get us to the 4G standard. In other
words, it’s what 4G will be be when the technology evolves
enough to provide those speeds. It’s 4G-Eventually.
Despite the high standards they set earlier , the ITU-R decided that mobile
carriers could market LTE (and HSPA) as 4G , since they represented a significant improvement over 3G and paved the way for true 4G speeds.
How LTE Stacks Up in Speed and Coverage
Okay, I'm done with the history lesson. Let’s tackle the
question that truly matters: What kind of speeds does LTE
actually offer right now? Frankly, it depends on where you are
and who you are using for your wireless service.
According to a speed test by a YouTube Vlogger , the average MTN LTE
download speed in the is 5.5 Mbps while the global average is 13.5 Mbps. That’s far off the ideal 100 Mbps 4G
standard, but a marked improvement over old 3G speeds.
Remember, that’s an average. Your speed may be faster, or it
could be slower.
But it’s not just about speed: coverage matters too. After all,
if you never see that “LTE” icon in the menu bar of your
phone, you won’t ever get those highly-advertised speeds.
Coverage depends on your carrier. Each of the Nigerian
carriers–MTN , GLO and ETISALAT ,–utilize
different frequency bands, which is how they separate their
signals from one another.
A frequency band is a group of
radio frequencies mobile carriers thus use to communicate
Network coverage at lower frequencies, particularly the
700Mhz range, will provide LTE access in more locations
such as buildings and sheltered areas. In fact, in terms of
coverage–measured by how much time subscribers are able
to get an LTE signal, the top 3 carriers haven't reached
The Future: LTE Advanced and 5G
That’s the present. So what does the the future hold ?
Mobile broadband speeds will no doubt continue to advance and gain
speed. LTE Advanced is the new standard some companies are hyping, which promises to finally deliver “True 4G” speeds.
So basically, LTE Advanced is what 4G was supposed to be all along.
5G , meanwhile, will be the next logical step up from 4G. As
you might guess, 5G stands for fifth generation, and is
supposed to promise speeds up to 10 gigabits per seconds–
enough to download a full HD movie in mere seconds.
Unlike LTE, which occupies lower frequency bands, 5G
can occupy both lower frequency bands and ultra-high bands.
Using these higher bands means 5G won’t travel as far as 4G
LTE and will need to be throttled to make it practical to a
None of this matters much at this point however, as the technical standards are still being worked out and won’t be finalized until 2020.
For right now, 4G LTE is good enough for the vast majority of
mobile users, and will be for some time. Logically, if or when
True 4G or LTE Advanced becomes the norm, it will suffice for
a time while mobile providers roll out 5G and so on.
Considering how long it took the top network providers to upgrade to 4G LTE. I don't know when Nigeria will get to 4G LTE Advanced or 5G. However most people still fear that once there's a drastic increase in people using 4G enabled smartphones, the speed would reduce. Let's keep our fingers crossed and leave the top OEMs to decide.
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