Is 4G Obsolete?

Most networks last 20 years before facing a phase out, and we don’t expect 4G to alter that trend.

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Last Updated: Nov 16, 2023
Decaying sign with the words “4G” on it
4G may seem old, but it’s still a perfectly useful solution for cellular technology.
  • 4G technology has been available for 15 years, and experts consider 2030 to be the year we’ll begin phasing it out.
  • 2G and 3G networks remained viable solutions for over 20 years each.
  • 5G offers new benefits, such as enhanced speed, latency, and security features, that are convincing reasons to upgrade.

When a new phone update rolls out, do you immediately download it or wait to hear what others experience? Are you keen to discover the enhancements yourself, or would you rather wait to see if your service is interrupted? Just like a phone update, network upgrades take time.

When a new phone becomes available, the previous version doesn’t immediately become obsolete. Not everyone will have the funds or the interest to purchase a new phone right when it rolls out, just as every city won’t immediately have the full benefits of a new network technology. Before you jump into 5G completely, you should understand the life cycle of 4G, the benefits and drawbacks of 5G, and why both networks can coexist for some time in the future.

What Is 4G?

4G, or Fourth Generation, is a version of cellular network technology introduced around the end of 2008. 4G introduced more internet-based networks, as opposed to the previously utilized physical circuit-switching phone networks operated by humans. 4G brought a lower latency, or data lag, meaning connected devices would receive quicker responses to their requests. These upgrades also meant users would see an improvement in the clarity of their voice calls over digital networks and faster speeds for downloading content and loading webpages.

4G also made streaming an HD movie on your phone or playing online video games on the go possible — if not normal. Before 4G, these activities weren’t a possibility at all. Simply put, 4G made utilizing mobile devices for everyday tasks faster and easier than its predecessors.

4G is still widely available, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. It’s also significantly less expensive at the moment than 5G technology. Offering speeds up to 100 Mbps, it remains a fast-paced and accessible network option.

When Will 4G No Longer Be Available?

Suppose we’re using past trends to help us identify when 4G will no longer be available. In that case, we’re around a decade away from seeing 4G being completely outdated and inaccessible, at the minimum. Many experts say that 4G should be available well into 2030, so even though you may see 5G utilized more prevalently, especially in large cities, there’s no reason to believe that 4G is becoming more scarce. Many users may already have 5G connectivity, but manufacturers are building these networks to work in conjunction with 4G networks, not to replace them.

It’s also worth noting that when 4G first became available, it wasn’t nearly as strong as it is today. 4G download speeds at the onset were around 12.5 Mbps, whereas today’s 4G speeds are upward of 57.2 Mbps, on average.

The Life Cycle of a G (Generation)

Historically, users have seen networks become obsolete 20 or more years after their introduction. Since 4G first became available in 2009, that would give us until 2029 or 2030, at the earliest, to continue using this network. For a look back at the discontinuation of various cellular standards, check out the following table for reference:

Name Release date Discontinued date
2G 1991 Between 2017 and 2022 (31 years)
3G 2001 2022 (21 years)
4G 2009 NA
5G 2020 NA

What Are the Differences Between 4G and 5G?

Loading bar with wooden blocks going from 4G to 5G
The transition from 4G to 5G will take some time. (Image: Shutterstock)

It’s all about speed, and 5G, or Fifth Generation, wins that race without hesitation. 5G download speeds can reach up to 20 Gbps — essentially 200 times faster than 4G. However, that speed is the fastest possible, not necessarily the average most users will experience. To put this scenario into perspective, you could expect to download a movie in just 49 seconds with 5G instead of in 50 minutes with 4G (depending on the movie).

5G differs from all previous cellular networks due to its cloud-based infrastructure. Its network functions primarily through software rather than hardware. You may hear the term “network slicing,” which means that the owner of any slice can tailor its speed, capacity, coverage, encryption, and security to its unique requirements.

Latency is also a key difference between 4G and 5G. Latency is the delay between the sending of information and the corresponding response. 4G has an average latency of 200 milliseconds, whereas the 5G latency rate is just 1 millisecond.

5G connectivity also provides more security features, including ensuring that devices meet authentication, confidentiality, storage, and privacy requirements. 5G varies from previous network upgrades in that it’s more about speed, but it also offers new opportunities for enhanced security.

4G 5G
  • Available nationwide except for extremely remote areas
  • 200 ms latency
  • Average speeds of 57.2 Mbps
  • Peak speeds up to 100 Mbps
  • Available in mostly large cities, with limited rural access
  • 1 ms latency
  • Average speeds of 123.9 Mbps
  • Peak speeds up to 20 Gbps

Can I Use 4G the Same Way I Can Expect to Use 5G?

Current 4G users can expect to use 5G the same way they use their current devices. Devices won’t need to change significantly to adopt 5G capabilities, and your routine won’t be interrupted or shaken. It’s still unknown when 4G will officially face discontinuation because cell phones using 5G technology will still be using 4G technology for many years.

Users can expect 5G to provide faster speeds and lower lapse time, which is a positive side effect. On the inside, 5G transmitters are unique in that they can share frequencies without messing up other transmissions. They also coordinate so users can utilize multiple frequencies simultaneously to fit more data through them.

Since 4G will probably be available for at least another decade, it’s also worth noting that using it may cost significantly less than a 5G upgrade. Certain features may only be possible with 5G, but it’s important to factor in cost when determining which technology is best for you.

What About 4G LTE?

LTE, also known as Long-Term Evolution, was a moniker used to define a 4G network on its way to reaching that standard. Essentially, 4G LTE is the less effective variant of 4G. Even today, many users wrongly assume LTE networks are faster or newer than 4G, but this isn’t the case. While 4G LTE delivers lower speed than the 4G standard, it still exists in many areas. Understanding 4G LTE capabilities will also help users realize that 5G E actually means that a network is working toward an evolution to 5G standards, versus the preconceived notion that 5G E is better than 5G.

What Determines When a Technology Becomes Obsolete?

Technology becomes obsolete when it’s no longer a viable connectivity option. Even if other technology has surpassed its features or capabilities, if the previous generation is still available, that doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. For example, many networks have only completely sunset 3G within the last 2 – 3 years. That means that 3G didn’t become truly obsolete until that time. However, many users have been utilizing 4G for almost a decade, so it’s all about perspective, location, and accessibility.

Should I Switch to 5G?

Woman in heart-shaped sunglasses amazed by her cell phone
Switching to 5G will deliver an amazing performance upgrade for many users. (Image: Shutterstock)

As we speak, mobile carriers in the U.S. are still rolling out 5G networks. With those rollouts come faster speeds, lower latency, and increased security requirements. 5G is expected to have a much larger network capacity, ensuring it’s available to even more people by standardizing network processes globally and improving overall performance and efficiency.

In short, just like every technology or device upgrade, upgrading has significant benefits. While there’s no rush to trade in your current 4G device or network compatibility, 5G will soon be the way of the future. It may be best to monitor connectivity options in your area and only switch to 5G once you’re confident you’ll have access to the full range of capabilities this network promises users.

To put it in perspective, about 62 percent of Americans can receive 5G coverage at home, 30 percent have adopted the coverage on their phones, 12 percent have 5G home internet, and 47 percent of mobile users have noticed an increase in cellular network speeds. There still needs to be more trust and awareness of the technology, as some people have concerns about health and air travel.

How Do I Determine Which Option Is Best for Me?

When determining which network is best for you, we recommend considering accessibility, cost, and security. For now, 4G isn’t going anywhere, and for some people, it’s still the better option. Like many upgrades, the upgrade to 5G will take time. 5G is still inaccessible in many areas, especially rural ones, and it’s still being tested and optimized. While security and speed features may be in place, some still have concerns with the upgraded network.

Since your existing device allows for 4G compatibility, we believe you don’t need to rush to upgrade or alter your current lifestyle just because of new technology options. Do your research, understand the cost benefits or drawbacks, and determine which technology is best for you before upgrading to 5G.