Published on March 7th, 2013 | by Nizam Nasirudin3
3G vs. 4G: What’s changed since 2001?
Third-generation (3G) products hit the market in 2001, more or less a decade after 2G in 1992. 3G enabled its users to access services previously unavailable, like mobile television and Internet access, although the latter is far more common nowadays with 4G technology. 3G was dependable enough while in use, but in 2010, it was eclipsed by fourth-generation, or 4G, networks and devices.
But what is it that differentiates these two standards? Is it wholly arbitrary, and determined by device manufacturers and advertising companies? Or is there some kind of underlying logic? To answer this question, some information from a surprising authority is needed: the United Nations. More specifically, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union, or the ITU. This organization sets the basic standards for the classifications of telecommunication devices of all sorts, from smartphones to orbiting satellites.
The standards determining what constitutes 3G or 4G depend on the speed at which the network or device transfers data. The ITU sets a minimum transfer speed, and devices and networks able to match or exceed that speed are deemed to be up to that standard. For example, the minimum data transfer speed for 3G devices and networks is 200 kilobits per second, while the minimum figure for 4G is 100 megabits per second (for users in motion) or 1 gigabit per second (for stationary users).
So what do these numbers mean? In order to understand them, you need to understand that a bit is the smallest amount of electronic information possible–the most basic piece of data there is. You also need to understand that each successive prefix (kilo-, mega-, giga-) represent a step up in order of magnitude, i.e. from 1,000 to 1,000,000 (one thousand to one million, or a thousand thousand).
So, the minimum speed required to qualify for 3G status is 200,000 bits per second, while the minimum speed for 4G qualification is 100,000,000 bits per second. As you can see, it’s a big jump from two hundred thousand to one hundred million. However, it’s important to note that 3G technology did not simply stop advancing at the time of its release; on the contrary, by the advent of 4G services, most devices and networks far exceeded the minimum data transfer rate–although they didn’t technically qualify for 4G status. (This didn’t stop some manufacturers and network carriers from marketing them as 4G, however.)
One of the reasons that true 4G outstrips 3G in terms of speed and ease of use is its basis in several new and advanced technologies developed during the last decade. One of the most prominent of these is known is MIMO, which stands for Multiple In, Multiple Out. This technology enables devices like smartphones and wireless access points (routers) to utilize more than one data stream at a time, making for more secure, stable connections and much faster data speeds. 4G LTE is much like the more advanced versions of 3G, allowing for greater and greater speed and more coverage in areas where it’s available.