A Little 4G Conversation

The dominant technology for wireless right now is 4G LTE and it’s worth spending a few minutes reviewing the major features of the technology and some commentary about the components that allow it to work.

While there isn’t time to go over every specification and what it means to the customer you can clearly see that the data rate available is superior to those of the previous generations.  

What’s also often overlooked in these conversations isn’t just that the technology is superior it’s that the new radios are backwards compatible making all of the existing technologies available.  Take for example the Qualcomm WTR3925 used in the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S7.  This transceiver boasts a profile of only 28nm and a frequency range of 700-2700 MHz and claims of increased power efficiency over previous models.  Innovations such as this transceiver are truly what make 4G LTE technologies possible at reasonable prices for consumers.  According to a posting on AliExpress, the radio is less than $10.  

The 2-8 GHz range is certainly an eye catcher over previous technologies, but more Ghz doesn’t directly translate to better performance.  With increased frequency comes a decreased range but an increase of bandwidth.  In order to make those higher frequencies work to provide higher bandwidth customers need to be closer to the cell tower.  In order for the network provider to satisfy customer expectations of 4G increased efforts need to be made to install more 4G cell towers.  In some cases this means installing new nodes closer together.  That’s why you see cell providers advertise about their coverage improvements during the super bowl.  Outside of frequency this area of the business makes for one of the organization’s largest expenses.

We’ve come a long way with radios in the past 100 years.  This month in the QST, the ARRL’s monthly publication is an article featuring the radios from the Japanese Zeros (made by Mitsubishi–not you’ll understand their logo) that had a frequency range between 200-500 kHz and 5000-10,000 kHz.  At those frequencies the signal could travel approximately 800 miles, but all you would have heard is a series of dots and dashes known to amateur’s as continuous wave (CW).  While CW may have been a form of digital transmission, it’s data rate doesn’t compare on the scale of Kbps.  I’ll take today’s digital technology highlighted by the Qualcomm WTR3925 any day, but rest assured I do own a short wave just in case.