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Is 4G Dead?

And what ever happened to 3G?

5G technology is changing not only our cell phones, but our home internet and potentially a lot more. But if 5G is the way of the future, what happens to 4G and all my 4G devices? Is it still worth buying a 4G device today, or will it be obsolete before you take it out of the box?

Fortunately for those of us not living on the cutting edge, 4G is not dead, and the technology isn’t going away anytime soon. If you’re still curious about your phone’s fate or want to know what the future holds for cellular technology, we’ll cover the details of how generations of cellular phones start and end.

What is 4G?

4G refers to the fourth generation of cellular network technology. These generations are a set of international standards and shared technologies that allow phone manufacturers, service providers, software developers, government agencies, and other telecommunications organizations to work together to maintain compatibility between systems. When standards aren’t properly enforced, you end up with 4G iPads that don’t run on 4G.

4G, which was implemented around the end of 2008, introduced a number of new technologies that were not present in earlier generations. Notably, 4G technologies used purely internet-based networks, rather than the physical circuit-switching phone networks that were originally operated by human operators.

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Unsurprisingly, the adoption of 4G didn’t happen overnight. Originally envisioned in the early 2000s, it would take years to develop commercially viable prototypes of the various transmitters, antennas, and phones required to meet 4G standards and even longer before these technologies were operational and ready for the mass market.

The realization of 4G service also required changes in government regulations. For example, parts of the radio frequency spectrum that the FCC auctioned off to AT&T and Verizon’s 4G networks were originally used for analog television, but were repurposed as analog television was phased out and these licenses were recovered by the FCC. This is why having everyone on the same page is so important. It’s not just about making life easier for consumers (though that is very important), it’s also about distributing public resources in a way that best serves the public.

4G LTE, 5E, and other misleading marketing

The goal of standards like 4G is to keep everyone on the same page, but more people see them first through an advertising lens with the goal of selling more stuff. The label of 4G LTE, or 4G Long-term Evolution, was initially created to describe cellular networks that were using some of the technologies in the 4G standard, but were still only delivering a fraction of the speed required to meet the 4G standard. “Long-term evolution” was meant to suggest that a network was on the road to reaching the 4G standard, though it might have been more appropriate to refer to these networks as 3.5G.

Ironically, though not necessarily unintentionally, consumers often assume that 4G LTE is an improvement over normal 4G, rather than a worse version of 4G. This issue is so bad that as many people have pointed out, even when providers finally reached true 4G speeds, they didn’t want to call it “4G” because people assumed that 4G LTE was better.

A similar problem occurred as the first 5G technologies were deployed and AT&T advertised its network as “5GE” (5G Evolution). As with 4G LTE, 5GE supposedly meant that this was an evolution toward true 5G, even though it sounded more like it should be an evolution of 5G.

This time, Sprint sued its competitor to stop the “blatantly misleading” advertising, though AT&T continued to display the logo on phones connected to its network. Regardless, this has left most wireless customers unclear of what technology their devices are running and how new technologies will affect them.

What happened to 3G?

3G networks were developed in the early 2000s and soon covered most of the population of the U.S. 3G network use declined after providers deployed 4G (or at least 4G-branded) networks around a decade later.

Now that providers are shifting their focus again to 5G, they don’t want to continue maintaining their 3G infrastructure, so providers began phasing out 3G service starting around 2022. This also frees up radio spectrum that the FCC can license to support new technologies, like 5G.

It’s worth noting that even though it often seems like technological advancements are picking up pace, this 20-year-old technology was phased out in just the last few years. While not all of us feel obligated to upgrade to the latest iPhone every year, I think it’s safe to say that most people aren’t still rocking their Nokia 3310 from 2001.

When will 4G be phased out?

No major carriers have announced plans to shut down their 4G networks, so it’s safe to assume that 4G will be around for quite a while. If we look at 3G as an example of what we might expect, it took over two decades from its commercial launch in 2001 to the beginning of its phase-out in the US in 2022. If 4G has as good a run as 3G did, then we won’t have to worry about the 4G phase-out until close to the year 2030.

If we look ahead to new technologies like 5G, we get a similar outlook. Although wireless marketing is awash with 5G claims, 5G coverage is still very limited in comparison to 4G and true 5G speeds are basically unheard of (which according to international standards should be able to reach at least 20Gbps).

While scientists, engineers, and other telecommunications researchers are already working on 6G technologies, estimates put their implementation out around the year 2030 as well. Since we didn’t really see the phase out of 3G networks until 5G was already in the works, it’s safe to say that we can expect 4G to last just as long.

This means that you don’t have to worry about 5G making your device obsolete, unless you expect your next phone to last longer than seven years. (I don’t think I’ve ever had a phone last that long.)

Pro Tip:

Do you need help staying connected? If your internet provider is phasing out your current plan or raising your monthly cost, check out our guide to government programs and our guide to the Affordable Connectivity program to get some assistance.

Where can I find 4G and 5G internet now?

4G still has plenty of life left in it, and it’s breaking out of its role as just a mobile technology and is being used to provide home internet as well. If you live in an area with limited internet options, but good cellular coverage, 4G or 5G internet connections might offer plans that are faster or cheaper than your current provider.

Popular wireless internet providers

ProviderCostSpeedConnectionOrder online
$25.00–$50.00/mo.*Up to 1,000Mbps5G Home
T-Mobile Home Internet $50.00/mo.72–245Mbps5G HomeView Plans
Rise Broadband $25.00–$65.00/mo.25–50MbpsFixed WirelessView Plans
AT&T $59.99/mo.25MbpsFixed WirelessView Plans

Related resources

Still have more questions about 4G or other wireless internet technology? Check out some of our other articles on these topics.

Author -

Peter Christiansen writes about satellite internet, rural connectivity, livestreaming, and parental controls for Peter holds a PhD in communication from the University of Utah and has been working in tech for over 15 years as a computer programmer, game developer, filmmaker, and writer. His writing has been praised by outlets like Wired, Digital Humanities Now, and the New Statesman.

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