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4G? LTE? What's the difference?

Shopping for a new smart phone? Expect to see signs for 4G and 4G LTE. Who's the fastest of them all?

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Shopping for a new smart phone can mean deciphering a cryp­to­gram of capital letters. Take Sprint's upcoming pow­erhouse phone, the HTC EVO 4G LTE.

That's HTC, the company; EVO, the line of phones; and 4G LTE, the speed of its Internet connection.

In 2009, Sprint boasted that it had America's first 4G phones. Yet this month, more than two years later, the phone company celebrated the new EVO as its first 4G LTE phone. What's the difference?

While 4G and 4G LTE both mean generally the same thing – fast! – there's a lot hidden behind those labels.

As smart phones took off a few years ago, shoppers got excited about 3G. The term, short for "third generation," is a loose benchmark for the speed at which mobile devices download data from the Internet. With 3G connections, phones could finally load websites and videos at a decent clip.

But as faster technology emerged, marketers got tricksy. All four of the major American carriers came up with a different definition of 4G. They share only one similarity: being faster than 3G.

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