Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE – What is LTE? Is LTE important?

Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE (and other tablets like iPad 3) tout LTE as a BIG improvement.

The questions worth asking are –

  1. What is LTE?
  2. Is LTE really a Big improvement, or is it more of a marketing gimmick?

Thanks to Kaethy for asking ‘what is LTE’. Well, let’s find out exactly what LTE is, and whether or not it’s a big deal.

What is the LTE in Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE?

  1. LTE is a way for phones and mobile devices to get data wirelessly at high speeds. That’s the crux: It will let you get wireless data to your Kindle Fire HD 4G very fast.
  2. Phones and Mobile devices use wireless technology to transfer data. Data is transferred via waves that use the electromagnetic spectrum (it’s fine, we can ignore what this is). Each type of use (TV, Radio, wireless) has its own band of frequencies. This is handled by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).
  3. Wireless Data use is just like Radio or TV broadcasting where waves that ‘hold’ the radio/TV data are sent out into the air by the station. Then the radio or the TV antenna captures those waves and converts them into a form we can understand. Except here it’s to your phone or mobile device, and your phone or mobile device can also transmit data back.
  4. You have wireless data like cellular data service where there are Cellphone Towers that have a range of 10 to 15 miles. You can have wireless networks like WiFi which have a range of just a few rooms or a home. In each case, data is being sent to your device via waves. In each case, your device is sending data back to the ‘modem’ or ‘tower’ via waves.
  5. Wireless data transfer via waves came into use because it was impractical to have wires everywhere. Can you imagine needing to have a wire always plugged into your phone or Tablet?
  6. Wireless technology evolves and the improving technologies get classified into ‘Generations’. It’s mostly a marketing thing. 2G = Second Generation (GSM, CDMA, GPRS). 3G = Third Generation (W-CDMA, EDGE, CDMA2000). 4G = 4th Generation. These are all generations of wireless technology. Just as your computer gets faster and more powerful and gets a larger hard drive, the wireless technology evolves and becomes better.
  7. LTE stands for ‘Long Term Evolution’. It is the next generation of wireless technology after existing 3G technologies (such as W-CDMA).
  8. LTE is marketed as 4G LTE. 4G = 4th Generation. Funnily enough, it does NOT meet the requirements for 4G. The standards body allowed companies to use ‘4G’ because it is significantly improved over existing 3G technology. It isn’t a ‘true 4G’ technology, more like 3.75G.
  9. LTE can be over different frequency bands. Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE supports 10 bands. Worldwide there are 32 bands. While 4G LTE really is a worldwide standard that should work everywhere – it will only work if your device supports the wireless band being used by the LTE networks in the country or region you are in.
  10. AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile are ALL moving to LTE. Whereas there was a clash in 2G and 3G technologies (CDMA vs GSM vs GPRS), all of them will be using the same technology standard of LTE. Note: They will use different bands. Amazon has said that LTE supports all 10 bands available in the US but I have no idea if that includes Verizon or if Amazon means something else.
  11. The move to LTE is happening worldwide. So we will have the same technology standard of LTE worldwide. Only problem is that there will be 32 different bands. So your device must BOTH support LTE and support the respective wireless frequency band, to work on a LTE network.
  12. AT&T is FAR BEHIND Verizon in LTE. AT&T covers something like 30 million potential subscribers while Verizon covers 200 million potential subscribers (these are inexact figures). So the choice of AT&T is a bit strange. Where AT&T doesn’t have LTE you’ll get HSPA+ (which is faster than 3G and slower than LTE). However, Verizon is the only company that has ACTUAL LTE available in lots of markets and areas.

In a nutshell:

LTE (Long Term Evolution) is a much faster way of transferring wireless data from and to your Tablet. It is not yet widely available – only Verizon is well positioned on that front. It is a significant improvement over existing 2G and 3G wireless technologies.

It’s a BIG DEAL for the FUTURE. For the present, it’s just a luxury feature, not a killer feature.

Is LTE a big deal? How important is LTE?

Actually, there are lots of nuances –

  1. LTE is very good insurance for the future. If someone invents something that requires super high-speed data transfer, then LTE on your device would be great. For most current uses (email, surfing, downloading a book, downloading a song) LTE is way more than necessary speed.
  2. You could argue LTE is useful for things such as downloading movies really fast and streaming movies and playing streaming games.
  3. The speeds LTE provides are way more than required for most usage we currently have. Peak download rates of 100 Mbps or more and upload rates of 50 Mbps or more. Unless you’re getting the Encyclopaedia Britannica as an email attacment that’s way more speed than you’ll need.
  4. In actual use you’ll probably find LTE gives you download speeds between 10 and 30 Mbps. For comparison, 3G offers speeds around 2 Mbps. Please Note: 2 Mbps is perfectly fine for things like email and surfing the web and even for downloading things.
  5. LTE supports some good features from a technological perspective – low latency, efficiency, inter-operation with existing standards like GSM/EDGE and CDMA2000, support for multicast-broadcast single frequency network which would allow things like Mobile TV, increased spectrum flexibility (it can work across more wireless frequencies). This is part of why it’s becoming a worldwide standard.
  6. LTE provides really, really fast speed. There aren’t really very many technologies that need that faster speed. Basically, we haven’t invented uses for that amount of speed. However, if and when someone does, you’ll be glad you have it.
  7. If you want speed for speed’s sake, then LTE is great.
  8. LTE is costly. The Networks spent a LOT of money to set up their LTE networks. Most of them are still setting up LTE networks. They are going to recoup that money via data charges. So all that fast data transfer and streaming movies – lots of data charges. Also, since data transfer is so fast, you are going to use a LOT more data on LTE.
  9. AT&T is still years away from having full LTE deployment in the US. Please keep this in mind. Your area might not have AT&T LTE support.
  10. Patents. There are about 50 companies that have declared they have LTE patents that are standards essential. If a patent is ‘standard essential’ then the company holding it MUST license it to everyone else, and at reasonable rates. So your device is NOT going to get banned or blocked. However, Amazon might have to pay some charges to some companies. If it has LTE patents of its own (unlikely), then it might be able to cross-license and avoid paying charges.
  11. The successor to LTE is called LTE Advanced. It’ll be a ‘True 4G’ technology. We are quite a few years away from that. Companies might even skip it and move on to the successor to LTE Advanced or to a completely different technology – so no point waiting for it.

To put all of that into plain English –

  1. LTE is a very fast wireless data transfer standard.
  2. There isn’t really any use right now that makes LTE necessary. Perhaps streaming live games or live TV or streaming movies.
  3. Data charges can REALLY pile up with LTE. It’s capable of 100 Mbps and will probably deliver at least 20 to 30 Mbps. You’re going to have to be very, very careful about data limits and overage charges.
  4. AT&T is way behind Verizon in LTE deployment. Only a small part of AT&T’s network has LTE.
  5. LTE is very good insurance for the future. In 1.5 to 2.5 years you’ll be really glad you have it. Until then it’s just a luxury – something that lets you get faster instant gratification.

You can read up more about LTE at Wikipedia and about 4G at All Things Digital. The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE product page has details on what Amazon is offering. Please keep in mind that it’s mostly marketing speak and it doesn’t reveal things like data rate after the first year or overage charges or what the cost of higher data plans is.

Is it worth paying $200 more for 4G LTE and 16 GB of extra memory?

It’s hard to say.

4G LTE is definitely a luxury at this stage. Companies write ‘ultra-fast’ but they don’t mention that –

  1. We don’t really have any usage for that fast a data transfer speed. Not yet.
  2. The data costs will be very high. If you start streaming HD movies over LTE then you might as well write a blank check to AT&T.

At the same time, LTE is good insurance for the future. In case some use comes up that is very data intensive (Super Super High Fidelity Movies, New Broadcast TV in Ultra High Definition), LTE will be great. If you just want a device to check email and surf the web and don’t mind waiting a bit for movies to download, then the $299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ is just fine.