The promise of 4G is almost never a reality. The network itself is absolutely capable of performing 10 times faster than 3G networks. That part is true.
But Web performance isn’t that simple. There is a huge delta between pure science in a lab and the real world.
The cellular network, or your ISP’s local network, is a fraction of the infrastructure and services that it takes to get sites to load in your browser. In fact, the network that your device connects to is the last mile in the Web performance continuum.
It’s not the second-to-last mile. It’s dead last.
While we’re all excited about the arrival of 4G speeds, consumers need to realize that 4G can also deliver speeds up to 10 times slower than 3G, or dial-up, depending on real-world variables.
One major difference between 4G and 3G is that a 4G network is all IP-based, so it passes information between phone and carrier exactly the same way as a Web browser communicates with the Internet. 4G also boasts an increase in theoretical maximum throughput from 14.4 Mbps (mega bits per second) to 100 Mbps or more.
But theoretical maximums are like the theoretical miles-per-gallon on a new car. They’re nothing like what you experience day to day. In the real world, a 4G network delivers maybe three to five Mbps, and 3G networks two to three Mbps. This is due to distance from the cell tower, interference from walls and objects, and people moving while using their device — real world things.
Carriers have been fine-tuning their 3G networks to account for these real-world variables for years. Because 4G is newer, it hasn’t had anywhere near this much tuning yet.
In addition, the “throughput” is not your connection to everything on the Internet, as might be assumed. It is actually your connection to the carrier. These are two different things. Most of us aren’t going to buy a 4G phone so we can access AT&T’s data center faster. Instead, we want increased speed while we do real things on the Internet.