Broadband Guides 3G vs 4G

Published on March 7th, 2013 | by Nizam Nasirudin

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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.

3G vs 4G

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.

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.


About the Author

is a technology enthusiast who have an unlimited curiosity. He love to learn new stuff in very broad fields and was amazed at what the power of sharing could do. Circle Nizam on Google+!



3 Responses to 3G vs. 4G: What’s changed since 2001?

  1. Gorgia says:

    Whenever I use my 4G network, it seems like it takes a lot more power out of my mobile device. Will that technology improve? I hope so, because I want the finest quality network. Is there a 5G in development?

    • nizam says:

      Hi Gorgia. Firstly you have to understand why your battery life is so terrible. Usually it is because of the signal strength. As your signal gets weaker, your phone has to use more power to maintain a good connection to the network. If you’re at home or the office, connecting your smartphone to the network via 802.11n will save juice. However, if you’re not near an available router, your Wi-Fi radio can significantly drain your phone’s battery so disabling it is a great way to extend your phone’s battery life. You must manage the radio usage of the device. When not using them, disable the 4G, hotspot, WiFi or Bluetooth and GPS functions. This will extend the battery life. I would also recommend you to shut down any instant messaging programs since this programs have to maintain an active Internet connection all day long, even if you aren’t talking to anyone. If using the device to send and receive email, you can modify the settings to download email more or less frequently, as desired. If you’re an Android user, an app like JuiceDefender could be well worth a look. It offers many customizable features to help you get the best battery life. It can automatically and transparently manage most battery draining components, like 3G/4G connectivity and Wi-Fi. You can set a schedule when you want things to switch on or off, and the app is even “location aware” so it knows when to do things like switch off Wi-Fi when you are away from a known signal.

      Is there a 5G in development? Technology never stands still for long. :)

  2. Eric Tyrell says:

    I don’t have too much experience with 4G because I’m not a big Smartphone user and I find the prices for 4G data services quite high for my budget. However, I did get to try it for awhile when I subscribed to CLEAR. Clear offers a USB stick that plugs into your laptop and brings a high speed wireless connection to you. It was pretty neat to have and the speeds near my office and home were quite fast. Faster than the 3 mbps I had previously with DSL. Ultimately however I decided to go with a fiber optic line at my home supplied by a cable company.

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