Accessing the internet through a 4G LTE connection is certainly faster than 3G, DSL, or dial-up. Still, 4G internet isn’t perfect, and there are a number of things that can affect download speeds significantly. Most of them are unavoidable to some extent. The good news is that combining modern equipment with a reliable service keeps slow speeds to a minimum.
Below are five things that can affect 4G download speeds. They apply whether you are talking mobile internet access or access through a 4G rural internet provider. Also bear in mind that there are ways to get around consistently slow speeds. Some you can do for free, and others require a financial investment.
1. Signal Quality and Strength
One of the biggest factors influencing download speeds is the 4G signal itself. Maximum speeds require a strong, high-quality signal. In terms of signal strength, it is pretty easy to understand. Signal strength is measured on your phone in bars. The more bars your phone displays, the stronger the signal. But what about signal quality?
Signal quality is measured by something known as the signal-to-interference-plus-noise ratio (SINR). In every data signal, there is some amount of noise. But that does not mean audible noise. Noise is any unwanted data included in the signal. Combined with interference that may prevent a signal from moving through a particular space, noise reduces the quality of the data signal.
2. Band Connections
A known strength of 4G technology is the ability of connected devices to utilize multiple bands simultaneously. Assuming you have a fairly new phone, it can connect to a cell tower using multiple bands all at the same time. Each band handles a portion of the signal. The fewer the bands, the slower your connection. You get a faster connection with more bands.
This suggests that newer equipment should give you faster download speeds under normal circumstances. A 4G phone manufactured five or six years ago will probably be slower than a 4G modem manufactured last month. And of course, more expensive devices are likely to have more bands built in.
3. Online Congestion
The internet can suffer from congestion just like the interstate that runs across your county. Just as with car traffic, heavy network traffic slows down the speeds at which data can move. That’s why you may notice some sluggishness with your 4G devices in the early morning and late afternoon hours. That is when internet traffic is at its peak.
Also know that cell towers are a choke point for network data. They are like exit ramps on the interstate. During times of high traffic, data can back up at a cell tower while it’s waiting to be sent to the targeted device.
4. Inputs and Outputs
A 4G device with a single antenna operates on a premise known as ‘single input single output’ (SISO). This configuration obviously limits the speed at which data can move in and out of the device. The same goes for cell towers. But when towers and devices are built with ‘multiple input multiple output’ (MIMO) capabilities, download speeds increase.
5. Carrier Throttling
Even if none of these other things apply to your situation, you may notice slower download speeds due to carrier throttling. Throttling is a practice whereby carriers purposely limit download speeds in order to control traffic or give preference to customers willing to pay for higher tier packages.
Accessing the internet through a 4G connection is better than 3G, DSL, or satellite internet. But you still might experience slow download speeds on occasion. They are part and parcel with 4G access.