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Just How Fast Is Your 4G Network?
The subject of Internet speed and how to make it go faster is always a hot topic. So that begs the question, if everybody wants their Internet to go faster, what are some of the limitations? I mean, why can’t we just achieve infinite speeds when we want them and where we want them?
Below, I’ll take on some of the fundamental gating factors of Internet speeds, primarily exploring the difference between wired and wireless connections. As we have “progressed” from a reliance on wired connections to a near-universal expectation of wireless Internet options, we’ve also put some limitations on what speeds can be reliably achieved. I’ll discuss why the wired Internet to your home will likely always be faster than the latest fourth generation (4G) wireless being touted today.
To get a basic understanding of the limitations with wireless Internet, we must first talk about frequencies. (Don’t freak out if you’re not tech savvy. We usually do a pretty good job at explaining these things using analogies that anybody can understand.) The reason why frequencies are important to this discussion is that they’re the limiting factor to speed in a wireless network.
The FCC allows cell phone companies and other wireless Internet providers to use a specific range of frequencies (channels) to transmit data. For the sake of argument, let’s just say there are 256 frequencies available to the local wireless provider in your area. So in the simplest case of the old analog world, that means a local cell tower could support 256 phone conversations at one time.
However, with the development of better digital technology in the 1980s, wireless providers have been able to juggle more than one call on each frequency. This is done by using a time sharing system where bits are transmitted over the frequency in a round-robin type fashion such that several users are sharing the channel at one time.
The wireless providers have overcome the problem of having multiple users sharing a channel by dividing it up in time slices. Essentially this means when you are talking on your cell phone or bringing up a Web page on your browser, your device pauses to let other users on the channel. Only in the best case would you have the full speed of the channel to yourself (perhaps at 3 a.m. on a deserted stretch of interstate). For example, I just looked over some of the mumbo jumbo and promises of one-gigabit speeds for 4G devices, but only in a perfect world would you be able to achieve that speed.
In the real world of wireless, we need to know two things to determine the actual data rates to the end user.
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