4G networks appear to be all any mobile carrier can talk about nowadays. The catch is, with so many carriers claiming to have the biggest or fastest network, the 4G landscape can get pretty complex. As it turns out, 4G isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem.

While all of the major wireless providers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, have recently released smartphones with a “4G” network connection, it seems the definition of 4G varies from network to network. Let’s discuss the many definitions of “4G”.

HSPA
Both AT&T and T-Mobile have been employing HSPA for their 3G networks and HSPA is essentially the same network with enhanced capacity. T-Mobile is already offering the improved technology in more major metropolitan areas than their HSPA competitor.

LTE
This is the technology that is currently being implemented by Verizon. The LTE network is based on Global System for Media (GSM) technology, rather than Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), which Verizon has always utilized. LTE has a higher capacity and features download speeds of 5-12 Mbps, the equivalent of a typical home broadband connection.

In Verizon’s case, the LTE network is completely separate from the network that Verizon’s current users are on, lowering the chances of overcrowding.

Wi-Max
Wi-Max is also GSM-based, and it was originally regarded as the major contender for a 4G standard. Unfortunately, Wi-Max is not as fast as Verizon’s LTE network, but it is faster than AT&T and T-Mobile’s HSPA .

Unlike the other mobile carriers, Sprint’s version of a 4G network has been around for many months, meaning that their users were able to benefit from this technology long before users of other networks.

As you can see, there is no standard definition of a “4G” network. Luckily for us, the options are improving and the coverage is growing. Pretty soon, every carrier will have an enhanced network to choose from.

For more information on 4G networks and what they really mean, check out this Popular Science article.