Are the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S 4G Phones?

Is the iPhone 4 4G?
iPhone images copyright Apple Inc.

These days, phone manufacturers and mobile phone carriers hype their networks or phones as 4G (or sometimes 4G LTE). But what does that really mean? The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are sometimes referred to as the iPhone 4G, but does that mean that the iPhone 4 is a 4G phone?

The short answer is no, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are not 4G phones. 

At least they're not when by saying "4G" you mean the 4G or 4G LTE cellular network standard (the successor to the 3G standard used by the iPhone 4 & 4S) that most phone companies are referring when they say 4G.

Understand the confusion requires understanding what people mean when they say something is 4G. The confusion happens because there are two different meanings for "4G."

4G = 4th Generation Cellular Network

When most companies, and some people, talk about 4G, what they mean is a phone that is compatible with a 4th generation (i.e. 4G) cellular phone network.

4G networks, also called LTE Advanced or Mobile WiMAX networks (among other names), are next-generation wireless networks used by mobile phone companies to transmit calls and data to mobile phones. "3G" means that something is a third-generation network or compatible with one. 4G networks are newer, more advanced networks that will replace 3G networks.

By comparison, 4G networks are faster than 3G networks and can carry more data:

  • 4G network speeds: up to 1 GBit/second download; 500 Mbits/second upload
  • 3G network speeds: up to 14.4 Mbits/second download; 5.8 Mbit/second upload.

    While there are some patches in 4G coverage, most areas nationwide (in the U.S., at least) now have 4G LTE service available for cell and smartphones.

    Get much more detailed information about 4G networks at Wikipedia.

    4G = 4th Generation Phone

    But there's another meaning for "4G." Sometimes people use the term 4G to mean fourth generation products generally, not 4G networks specifically.

    The iPhone 4 is, as the name would suggest, the 4th iPhone model, making it the 4th generation iPhone. But being a 4th generation phone is not the same thing as being a 4G phone.

    The iPhone 4 Is Not a 4G Phone

    4G phones are phones that work on 4G networks. The iPhone 4 is not compatible with 4G networks (neither are previous models). Because the iPhone 4 uses 3G and EDGE networks only, the iPhone 4 is not a 4G phone.

    Neither Is the iPhone 4S

    The iPhone 4S can download data faster—up 14.4 Mbps—while the iPhone 4 maxes out at 7.2 Mbps. This isn't 4G speed, but some cell phone companies may promote the iPhone 4S as being a 4G phone or close to a 4G phone. Technically, this isn't true. As mentioned above, being 4G requires compatibility with a specific type of cell phone network and chips in the phone. The iPhone 4S doesn't have these chips. The phone companies that offer it in the U.S. have extensive 4G networks, but this iPhone model doesn't take advantage of them.

    How About the iPhone 5 and Newer Models?

    Here's where things get easy: The iPhone 5 and all subsequent iPhone models are 4G phones. That's because they all support 4G LTE networks. So, if you want to get 4G LTE for the fastest cellular data experience, pick up the latest iPhone.

    The question you'll have to answer is: which model is best for your needs?

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