Fourth Generation Wireless

What Does Fourth Generation Wireless Mean?

Fourth generation wireless (4G) is an abbreviation for the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards and replaces the third generation of broadband mobile communications. The standards for 4G, set by the radio sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R), are denoted as International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced).


An IMT-Advanced cellular system is expected to securely provide mobile service users with bandwidth higher than 100 Mbps, enough to support high quality streaming multimedia content. Existing 3G technologies, often branded as Pre-4G (such as mobile WiMAX and 3G LTE), fall short of this bandwidth requirement. The majority of implementations branded as 4G do not comply with the full IMT-Advanced standard.

Techopedia Explains Fourth Generation Wireless

The premise behind the 4G service offering is to deliver a comprehensive IP based solution where multimedia applications and services can be delivered to the user anytime and anywhere with a high data rate, premium quality of service and high security.

Seamless mobility and interoperability with existing wireless standards is crucial to the functionality of 4G communications. Implementations will involve new technologies such as femtocell and picocell, which will address the needs of mobile users wherever they are and will free up network resources for roaming users or those in more remote service areas.

Two competing standards were submitted in September 2009 as technology candidates for ITU-R consideration:

  • LTE Advanced – as standardized by the 3GPP
  • 802.16m – as standardized by IEEE

These standards aim to be:

  • Spectrally efficient
  • Able to dynamically allocate network resources in a cell
  • Able to support smooth handover
  • Able to offer high quality of service (QoS)
  • Based on an all-IP packet-switched network

WiMax is touted as the first 4G offering. It is an IP based, wireless broadband access technology, also known as IEEE 802.16. WiMax services offer residential and business customers with basic Internet connectivity.

Present implementations of WiMAX and LTE are largely considered a stopgap solution offering a considerable boost, while WiMAX 2 (based on the 802.16m specification) and LTE Advanced are finalized. Both technologies aim to reach the objectives traced by the ITU, but are still far from being implemented.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…