In May 2010, while writing about the third generation (3G), I had stated that data-based services, including Internet, music, video or games, would rule the mobile market. Like everyone else, I, too, had great expectation from the 3G wave. Unfortunately, the 3G wave fell far short of our expectations. And, just when things started to improve a little bit, in terms of data speed and usage per subscriber, here comes 4G.
While major operators like Bharti Airtel, Vodafone and Idea Cellular have launched their 4G services at several places, the most eagerly waited launch of Reliance Jio (RJio) is in the final stages of commercial launch. When the news last came in, Reliance Industries, the parent, had provided RJio SIM cards and devices to its employees who now can refer it to 10 people. I did a check on RJio data speed on a friend’s handset, but I am not impressed. The data speed was, indeed, much higher than 3G, but not even close to real 4G speed. This may be possible since my friend was using the mobile handset of another company rather than RJio’s LYF brand which the company recommends. I will surely write about RJio once it enters the commercial market with its 4G services through the long-term evolution (LTE) standard.
The main difference between 4G and previous standards, like 3G and 2.5G, is use of network nodes. Both, 3G and 2.5G, use packet-switched nodes for data services and circuit-switched nodes for voice calls. In 4G systems, the circuit-switched infrastructure is abandoned and only a packet-switched network is provided. Thus, in other words, in 4G, traditional voice calls are routed through Internet telephony.
In March 2008, the International Telecommunications Union-Radio communications sector (ITU-R) specified a set of requirements for 4G standards, named as International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced) specification, setting peak speed requirements for 4G service at 100 megabits per second (Mbit/s) for high mobility communication (from trains cars) and 1 gigabit per second (Gbit/s) for low mobility communication such as pedestrians and stationary users. In short, the user of 4G should be able to get data speed of about 100Mbits/s.
Unfortunately, our experience with 3G is not that good. So, we need to take the claims of 4G data speed with a proverbial pinch of salt. One of the major reasons why the user never gets the 3G data speed as promised or advertised is lack of knowledge. Majority of users pay for 3G data service (denoted by H or HSPA+ or simply H+) but find that data network is always at 2G speed (denoted by E). The reason is that all mobile handsets are set on the default network setting of ‘GSM/WCDMA’ or ‘WCDMA Preferred’ that is nothing but 2G. Nobody informs the user to select ‘WCDMA Only’ in their mobile handset setting (for mobile network type) which is the 3G data setting. Try this; but there is no guarantee that you would receive the desired data speed. Anyway, since 3G is on its way out, let us not think much about the network and services.
With the impending launch of RJio’s 4G across India, many think that it will finally change the usage patterns and help improve data speeds. In a test, Edelweiss found RJio beating other operators in terms of network speed. It found the data service of RJio much superior compared with incumbent players’ 4G services with indoor network speed of 3-8Mbps and outdoor speed of 15-20Mbps—about 25% higher than current operators. “However,” its report says, “superior performance can be attributed to RJio’s relatively empty network and performance may deteriorate post-commercial launch.”
However, while we are getting ready for 4G, the next standard 5G is already being talked about, and is likely to be launched in 2020. Besides providing simply faster speeds, experts predict that 5G networks also will need to meet new use cases, such as the Internet of Things (network equipment in buildings or vehicles for web access) as well as broadcast-like services and lifeline communication in times of natural disasters.