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4G refers to the fourth generation of cellular communication technology which superceeds the global system for mobile communications standard (GSM) and high speed packet access (HSPA) standards. It offers massive improvements in data throughput and reduced latency over 2G and 3G networks as it is entirely IP based. As 4G is IP based it no longer supports circuit switched network nodes and therefore the base stations only need to support IP traffic which means that all 4G voice traffic is sent over the IP infrastructure.

As with 3G all of the benefits of the 2G and 3G system have been incorporated in to the 4G network to offer enhanced services with support for legacy applications such as SMS.

The 4G spectrum operates in a similar way to 2G and 3G with different regional areas being supported by different bands, however, the number of bands and regions compared to 2G and 3G is vastly different.

There are 44 defined bands for 4G and of these 13 bands are defined as Time Division Duplex (TDD) and 31 are defined as Frequency Division Duplex (FDD). The differences between these two standards is based around how they transmit and receive data using the shared spectrum.

TDD uses one frequency carrier to transmit and receive data over but the time for transmitting and receiving is different. With FDD two different frequencies are used to transmit and receive data but the data can be sent at the same time.

4G Graph

4G has a higher cost position compared to 2G and 3G but this cost is coming down as 4G / LTE technology is becoming more widely used across the world. The 4G network is split in to a number of classifications which define the mode of operation (TDD or FDD), the frequency band, the speed of operation and the number of MIMO layers. This can be seen in the table opposite.

As the IoT market does not necessarily require high data rates, the enhancements that are brought with the 4G network are normally not needed and as a result 2G has remained the favoured solution for IoT equipment developers. As with 3G a signifiant improvement offered by the 4G network over the 2G network is the network connection latency between two endpoints. This improvement means that the first byte will be received at the destination much more quickly and this means that the entire system latency will reduce. This opens the door for more real time, safety critical applications and allows for a much faster response times when sending and receiving information accross the network.

Unlike 2G and 3G networks, the 4G network is being invested in heavily to provide more global coverage as well as further development of the new 3GPP version releases. In addition to this investment is being provided for category M and categroy NB IoT which offer lower speed connections designed for direct 2G network replacement.

This table below shows the defined 4G classifications.

User equipment Category Downlink (Mbit/s) Max. number of DL MIMO layers Uplink (Mbit/s) 3GPP Release
NB1 0.68 1 1 Rel 13
M1 1 1 1
0 1 1 1 Rel 12
1 10.3 1 5.2 Rel 8
2 51 2 25.5
3 102 2 51
4 150.8 2 51
5 299.6 4 75.4
6 301.5 2 or 4 51 Rel 10
7 301.5 2 or 4 102
8 2,998.60 8 1,497.80
9 452.2 2 or 4 51 Rel 11
10 452.2 2 or 4 102
11 603 2 or 4 51
12 603 2 or 4 102
13 391.7 2 or 4 150.8 Rel 12
14 3,917 8 9,585
15 750 2 or 4 226
16 979 2 or 4 n/a
17 25,065 8 n/a Rel 13
18 1174 2 or 4 or 8 n/a
19 1566 2 or 4 or 8 n/a

Defined LTE bands and associated frequencies used within the 4G / LTE network.

Band Number LTE Mode 4G LTE Common Name Frequency (MHz) Uplink (MHz) Downlink (MHz)
1 FDD IMT 2100 1920 – 1980 2110 – 2170
2 FDD PCS blocks A-F 1900 1850 – 1910 1930 – 1990
3 FDD DCS 1800 1710 – 1785 1805 – 1880
4 FDD AWS blocks A-F (AWS-1) 1700 1710 – 1755 2110 – 2155
5 FDD CLR 850 824 – 849 869 – 894
7 FDD IMT-E 2600 2500 – 2570 2620 – 2690
8 FDD E-GSM 900 880 – 915 925 – 960
10 FDD Extended AWS blocks A-I 1700 1710 – 1770 2110 – 2170
11 FDD Lower PDC 1500 1427.9 – 1447.9 1475.9 – 1495.9
12 FDD Lower SMH blocks A/B/C 700 699 – 716 729 – 746
13 FDD Upper SMH block C 700 777 – 787 746 – 756
14 FDD Upper SMH block D 700 788 – 798 758 – 768
17 FDD Lower SMH blocks B/C 700 704 – 716 734 – 746
18 FDD Japan lower 800 850 815 – 830 860 – 875
19 FDD Japan upper 800 850 830 – 845 875 – 890
20 FDD EU Digital Dividend 800 832 – 862 791 – 821
21 FDD Upper PDC 1500 1447.9 – 1462.9 1495.9 – 1510.9
24 FDD L-Band (US) 1600 1626.5 – 1660.5 1525 – 1559
25 FDD Extended PCS blocks A-G 1900 1850 – 1915 1930 – 1995
26 FDD Extended CLR 850 814 – 849 859 – 894
28 FDD APT 700 703 – 748 758 – 803
29 FDD Lower SMH blocks D/E 700 N/A 717 – 728
30 FDD WCS blocks A/B 2300 2305 – 2315 2350 – 2360
32 FDD L-Band (EU) 1500 N/A 1452 – 1496
33 TDD IMT 2100 1900 – 1920
34 TDD IMT 2100 2010 – 2025
35 TDD PCS (Uplink) 1900 1850 – 1910
36 TDD PCS (Downlink) 1900 1930 – 1990
37 TDD PCS (Duplex spacing) 1900 1910 – 1930
38 TDD IMT-E (Duplex Spacing) 2600 2570 – 2620
39 TDD DCS-IMT gap 1900 1880 – 1920
41 TDD BRS / EBS 2500 2496 – 2690
44 TDD APT 700 703 – 803
45 TDD L-Band (China) 1500 1447 – 1467
46 TDD U-NII 5200 5150 – 5925
47 TDD U-NII-4 (V2X) 5900 5855 – 5925
48 TDD CBRS 3600 3550 – 3700
65 FDD Extended IMT 2100 1920 – 2010 2110 – 2200
66 FDD Extended AWS blocks A-J (AWS-1/AWS-3) 1700 1710 – 1780 2110 – 2200[3]
67 FDD EU 700 700 N/A 738 – 758
68 FDD ME 700 700 698 – 728 753 – 783
69 FDD IMT-E (Duplex spacing) 2600 N/A 2570 – 2620
70 FDD AWS-4 2000 1695 – 1710 1995 – 2020
71 FDD US Digital Dividend 600 663 – 698 617 – 652

LTE network split by LTE category and associated application examples.

1 Gbit/s LTECat 4 Aggregators / Distribution
100 Mbit/s Video Surveillance Internet Hotspots Infotainment
20 Mbit/s IoT Gateways Network Bridges Server Backup
10 Mbit/s LTECat 1 Data Devices / Services
5 Mbit/s Digital Signage Retail Kiosks ATM
2 Mbit/s Healthcare Alarm Panels POS Terminals
1 Mbit/s LTECat M Wearables / Meters
250 Kbit/s Personal Tracking ANPR Monitoring Telematics
100 Kbit/s Smart Watches Asset Tracking AMR
10 Kbit/s LTENB IoT Sensors / Tagging
5 Kbit/s HVAC Control Lighting Pollution Moitoring
1 Kbit/s Smoke Detectors Livestock Tagging Agriculture Monitoring

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