What is 4G?

Fourth generation (4G) wireless was originally conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same organization that developed the wired Internet. It is not surprising, then, that DARPA chose the same distributed architecture for the wireless Internet that had proven so successful in the wired Internet. Although experts and policymakers have yet to agree on all the aspects of 4G wireless, two characteristics have emerged as all but certain components of 4G: end-to-end Internet Protocol (IP), and peer-to-peer networking. An all IP network makes sense because consumers will want to use the same data applications they are used to in wired networks. A peer-to-peer network, where every device is both a transceiver and a router/repeater for other devices in the network, eliminates this spoke-and-hub weakness of cellular architectures, because the elimination of a single node does not disable the network. The final definition of “4G” will have to include something as simple as this: if a consumer can do it at home or in the office while wired to the Internet, that consumer must be able to do it wirelessly in a fully mobile environment.

Let’s define “4G” as “wireless ad hoc peer-to-peer networking.” 4G technology is significant because users joining the network add mobile routers to the network infrastructure. Because users carry much of the network with them, network capacity and coverage is dynamically shifted to accommodate changing user patterns. As people congregate and create pockets of high demand, they also create additional routes for each other, thus enabling additional access to network capacity. Users will automatically hop away from congested routes to less congested routes. This permits the network to dynamically and automatically self-balance capacity, and increase network utilization. What may not be obvious is that when user devices act as routers, these devices are actually part of the network infrastructure. So instead of carriers subsidizing the cost of user devices (e.g., handsets, PDAs, of laptop computers), consumers actually subsidize and help deploy the network for the carrier. With a cellular infrastructure, users contribute nothing to the network. They are just consumers competing for resources. But in wireless ad hoc peer-to-peer networks, users cooperate rather than compete for network resources. Thus, as the service gains popularity and the number of user increases, service likewise improves for all users. And there is also the 80/20 rule. With traditional wireless networks, about 80% of the cost is for site acquisition and installation, and just 20% is for the technology. Rising land and labor costs means installation costs tend to rise over time, subjecting the service providers’ business models to some challenging issues in the out years. With wireless peer-to-peer networking, however, about 80% of the cost is the technology and only 20% is the installation. Because technology costs tend to decline over time, a current viable business model should only become more profitable over time. The devices will get cheaper, and service providers will reach economies of scale sooner because they will be able to pass on the infrastructure savings to consumers, which will further increase the rate of penetration.

This new generation of wireless is intended to complement and replace the 3G systems, perhaps in 5 to 10 years. Accessing information anywhere, anytime, with a seamless connection to a wide range of information and services, and receiving a large volume of information, data, pictures, video, and so on, are the keys of the 4G infrastructures. The future 4G infrastructures will consist of a set of various networks using IP (Internet protocol) as a common protocol so that users are in control because they will be able to choose every application and environment. Based on the developing trends of mobile communication, 4G will have broader bandwidth, higher data rate, and smoother and quicker handoff and will focus on ensuring seamless service across a multitude of wireless systems and networks. The key concept is integrating the 4G capabilities with all of the existing mobile technologies through advanced technologies.

Application adaptability and being highly dynamic are the main features of 4G services of interest to users. These features mean services can be delivered and be available to the personal preference of different users and support the users’ traffic, air interfaces, radio environment, and quality of service. Connection with the network applications can be transferred into various forms and levels correctly and efficiently. The dominant methods of access to this pool of information will be the mobile telephone, PDA, and laptop to seamlessly access the voice communication, high speed information services, and entertainment broadcast services. Figure 1 illustrates elements and techniques to support the adaptability of the 4G domain. The fourth generation will encompass all systems from various networks, public to private; operator-driven broadband networks to personal areas; and ad hoc networks. The 4G systems will interoperate with 2G and 3G systems, as well as with digital (broadband) broadcasting systems. In addition, 4G systems will be fully IP-based wireless Internet. This all-encompassing integrated perspective shows the broad range of systems that the fourth generation intends to integrate, from satellite broadband to high altitude platform to cellular 3G and 3G systems to WLL (wireless local loop) and FWA (fixed wireless access) to WLAN (wireless local area network) and PAN (personal area network), all with IP as the integrating mechanism. With 4G, a range of new services and models will be available. These services and models need to be further examined for their interface with the design of 4G systems.

4G Features

  • Support for interactive multimedia, voice, streaming video, Internet, and other broadband services
  • IP based mobile system
  • High speed, high capacity, and low cost‐per‐bit
  • Global access, service portability, and scalable mobile services
  • Seamless  switching, and a variety of Quality of Service‐driven services
  • Better scheduling and call‐admission‐control techniques
  • Ad‐hoc and multi‐hop networks (the strict delay requirements of voice make multi‐hop network service a difficult problem)
  • Better spectral efficiency
  • Seamless network of multiple protocols and air interfaces (since 4G will be all‐IP, look for 4G systems to be compatible with all common network technologies, including 802.11, WCDMA, Bluetooth, and Hyper LAN).
  • An infrastructure to handle pre‐existing 3G systems along with other wireless technologies, some of which are currently under development.