Confused about 4G 5G LTE NB-IoT? Here are the basics and key differences.

Cellular Evolution

As developments in wireless technologies are happening at breakneck speed, it can be confusing at times to understand what all the different terms mean. Therefore below a summary of the essential wireless data communication standards for business in use today.


WiFi logo

First introduced in 1997, IEEE 802.11, better known as WIFI, is a global standard for short-range communications at high frequency (2.4Ghz to 5Ghz) in unregulated spectrum. It has the ability to transfer data at high speeds (the 'ac' version up to 800Mbps), however, high frequency radio waves are not very good at penetrating walls and obstacles. In addition, there often is interference (unregulated spectrum!) and it explains why you often suffer from low WIFI speeds unless you're sitting close to a WIFI router.

4G logo


4G is not a specific standard, but more of a marketing term. As mobile GSM and CDMA networks started to get better in transporting data traffic labeled '3G', the next step in terms of speed logically was..., you guessed it, '4G'. However, often the term is used for networks which are fast, but technically still are 3G GSM networks (HDPA+ etc). For mobile phone users, all that doesn't matter, as long as it provides fast downloads and therefore the most popular 'standard'.

LTE logo


Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is the global standard for high-speed wireless communication developed by the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project). It's truly revolutionary in that it enables ultra high speed data in mid-range frequencies (700Mhz - 2600Mhz). Because these frequencies are lower, it can reach further (up to 50Kms) and penetrate walls much better. And since it's regulated (no interference), it is extremely reliable. Many networks in AsiaPac are now at LTE 'CAT 6', which enables speeds up to 300Mbps. LTE is the most used standard for Wireless Access and WAN connectivity.


5G is the next step in the evolution of LTE, developed by the same 3GPP. It combines LTE speeds of 1Gb and beyond with further improvements in the network, for instance ultra-low latency and virtualization of many of the back-end processes. This allows for a whole new category of IOT developments providing the communications infrastructure for driverless cars and other future applications. 5G networks are being tested in select cities around the world at the moment and further investments in the upgrade of backhaul networks are required to bring it to its full potential.

Narrow band IoT

Narrow Band IoT

Last category is the most confusing one, as it's mostly under development with no clear winners yet. NB-IOT (Narrowband IOT) refers to radio technology to connect a wide range of small (IOT) devices over a wide area with low power and low-speed (Kbps). There is a range of technologies both in licensed and unlicensed spectrum, with SigFox and LoRa getting most attention at this moment, however, commercial availability is limited at this moment. More reading here.

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