April 23, 2018

From 3G to 4G, How Fast Is Super Fast?

 

MTN claims “The Ghana’s largest and fastest 3.75G network,” and Tigo says it has “Ghana’s fastest 3.75G network.” Airtel too boasts “Ghana’s fastest 3.75G network,” and now Surfline says it has the first and fastest 4G LTE network in the country.

Now that we are at the end of the Surfline “wow-erful” promotion, we ask; What does 4G LTE and its related terms really mean, and how much faster is a 4G network?

  • What actually Do The  “G’s” Mean?

There are no “official” definitions for 1G, 2G, 3G… but G has come to stand for generation. They can be considered as a segregation of similar generation mobile phone technologies, which have enough acronyms to confuse a normal cell phone user. All these G’s are however GSM(Global System for Mobile Communications) technologies.

  •  What is 4G?

4G(Fourth Generation) is the fourth and latest generation technology for data access over cellular networks. It’s faster and can give networks more capacity than the 3G networks still utilised by most phones. There’s a technical definition, set by a United Nations agency in Europe, and a marketing definition, which is more relevant to most consumers. Variants of 4G technology include LTE and Wimax.

  • Differences in Speed & Frequencies

4G is quicker than 3G which means less buffering times, better audio quality, improved gaming experience and streaming services.

  • Differences in Latency

Latency is a measure of the time it takes for data to travel from a PC/Mobile to the internet and back. On 4G that time is around half that experienced on current 3G networks meaning real-time applications like video conferencing, internet gaming and cloud-based streaming services work better with less buffering and fewer interruptions.

  • Who needs 4G?

It’s mostly for people with smartphones, tablets and laptops who often need fast data speeds for Web browsing, app use and email when they’re out of the range of Wi-Fi networks. It can give you the same or greater data speeds as home or office Wi-Fi when you’re in a taxi, hotels and airports. You are also likely to find this to be often faster than public Wi-Fi networks.

  • How does 4G differ from another term being advertised, ‘LTE’?

LTE, which stands for “Long Term Evolution,” it is the fastest, most consistent variant of 4G, and the one most technical experts feel hews most closely to the technical standard set by the U.N. In Africa, it has primarily been deployed by MTN and Smile, which offers it in about 6 countries including Nigeria and South Africa.

  • How fast is 4G?

Claims vary and performance depends upon the type of device and its Operating System, location, and time. In my tests, 4G data modems provided by Surfline for laptops typically deliver from three to 20 times the download speeds of 3G devices. . The speed king is LTE. The other forms of 4G have generally produced download speeds over 10 mbps. But all of these are better than 3G, which in my tests on all networks and many devices, averages download speeds under 2mbps.

  • How does LTE compare with common wired home Internet speeds?

Although it is wireless, LTE is often faster than most Ghanaians broadband home Internet service. Vodafone claims they provide the fastest 40 mbps (shared) broadband service in West Africa. However in the test I conducted (provided in the image below) I had download speeds moving up to 6.84 mbps.

4G Fig1

 

Shared networks offer less speed than typically advertised and interestingly the real applicable download speeds aside from tests can be between 700 kbps and 1 mbps.

4G Fig2
Yes, this was a completely legit download

 

  • Speed Comparisons

I decided to test the speeds of both Surfline and Vodafone Broadband and the results were quite interesting. The test was conducted in two folds. A theoretical speed using speedtest.net and a real application speed test by downloading the same file from the internet. The results are depicted in the images below.

Surfline had theoretical speeds between 8.67mbs and 12.37 mbs and application speeds at about 1.74 mbs. To be fair, I have previously come across download speeds of about 2mbs!

 4G Fig3

On the other hand in the test I conducted at Vodafone Cafe at Osu, Vodafone resulted in a speed test rating of 71.94 mbs. But with the real application downloads I had speeds of between 2.5-4.0 mbs.

4G Fig4

  • How does LTE compare with Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi is usually a wireless broadcast of a wired Internet service, so if the average broadband speed in Ghana is 5.13 mbps, that’s around what the average Wi-Fi speed is. But, in public places, the shared Wi-Fi is often much, much slower than LTE. In tests I did at Busy Internet at Kwame Nkrumah Circle as well as other internet cafes, the public Wi-Fi networks delivered well under 500 kbps on my Acer Aspire notebook. But the Surfline LTE cellular network on the notebook averaged over 1 mbps in both places. I was pretty impressed at the speeds I had after comparing Vodafone broadband and Surflines 4G LTE network.

  •  Is LTE only faster at downloads? What about uploads?

In my experience it’s faster than 3G at doing both. The screen shots tell the whole story.

  • Will these speeds drop as more people adopt LTE?

Probably, but it’s hard to say by how much, since LTE also offers more capacity, as well as speed. Nonetheless as Surfline is a shared network and not a dedicated network, the speed may be throttled in order to enable every user enjoy a stable speed. So it’s quite possible for speeds to drop as more people join but this should be insignificant.

  • What does LTE cost?

I was amazed when I saw the prices for Surfline’s internet. 1GB of data is as low as GH¢25 and 50GB costing GH¢445. This is quite expensive compared to Vodafone’s broadband which costs about GH¢400 for 500GB. However it’s worth the price for a mobile service in that you get almost the same speed (and sometimes much faster than regular broadband services) at such a price.

  • If I have an LTE phone or tablet, will I use more data faster than if I have 3G?

Quite possibly. The same amount of content, received at the same quality, won’t use more data on LTE than it does on 3G. However, because LTE is so much faster, users may be tempted to download or stream more data, like video, than with 3G. And they may choose to view higher quality video, which uses more data. Also, some apps and websites, sensing the higher LTE speed, will automatically send down larger data files, especially video.

  • How does LTE affect voice calls?

It doesn’t. It’s all about data, so far. Voice calls are handled by other, parallel networks. But Surfline and other LTE providers are hoping to move voice traffic to LTE.

  • What if I have an LTE phone or tablet, but I move to a network without LTE coverage?

On MTN, Tigo, and Airtel, you fall back to a 3.75G network. On Vodafone and Expresso, you fall back to 3.5G, which is a slower 4G network, but still faster than 3G.

 

Final Remarks

4G(LTE) networks are indeed fast and are an answer to the many calls for better internet services within the country. In due time 3G networks and speeds are going to be a thing of the past. Network speeds are however based conditions such as area of coverage, the device being used and its hardware/software composition, signal strength, and the amount of traffic on the network.

So if you need fast mobile internet, then get on board the 4G train or you can always wait on the 5G train which is fast in development.