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3G vs. 4G vs. LTE Speeds – Differences

ByinTips & Guides | May 31, 2015

Mobile Data

While promoting their products, manufacturers and carriers use a lot of terms and very specific vocabulary, most of which an average shopper probably will not understand. Such approach has its purpose though. Unless you speak tech jargon fluently, you may feel overwhelmed and distracted what make you more prone to advertisement and more likely to buy a product you don’t really need. In order to not to fall victim of marketing, it is good to know what all the terms and acronyms actually mean, so here’s our little guide to explain differences between 3G, 4G and LTE connectivity.

2G vs. 3G

Data Speed Differences
Let’s start from the basics, that is terminology. Mobile data technology is constantly improving; however, every once in a while specialists come up with a ground-breaking enhancement which marks the beginning of a new era. It’s called a generation, hence the “G” in 3G and 4G.

At the dawn of mobile communication era, phones worked on 2G networks which allowed only the most basic functionality, that is making phone calls, simple text messaging, and sending small amounts of data over a protocol called MMS.

The 2G system was later replaced by 3G connectivity which brought many improvements including exchanging larger data formats such as standard HTML pages, videos, and music. As mobile devices became more advanced, speeds offered by 3G networks were no longer sufficient.

4G vs. LTE

In March 2008 the ITU-R set standards for 4G connectivity to satisfy growing needs of mobile industry. In order to be recognized as 4G-ready, carriers and manufacturers have to adhere to those standards – for mobile use, including smartphones and tablets, connection speeds need to have a peak of at least 100 megabits per second, and for more stationary uses such as mobile hotspots, at least 1 gigabit per second.

However, at the time those standards were set, the requirements were unreachable simply because neither the infrastructure nor mobile devices were not capable of delivering such speeds. In the beginning, 4G was more of a goal for the future, a target for technology developers than the reality. With time, most systems that power the networks have caught up but introducing true 4G speeds is a difficult process which takes time.

Consequently, many networks wouldn’t have been able to call themselves 4G until today if it wasn’t for LTE. LTE, short for Long Term Evolution, is not a technology as such, but a term used to refer to path followed to achieve 4G speeds.

ITU-R allows networks to advertise their connections as 4G LTE, as long as the speeds are significantly faster than 3G. In other words, when your phone displays 4G LTE it means that the network is working hard to provide 4G speeds, but it’s not quite there yet.

Why is it so difficult to achieve the 4G goal? Because it requires two elements – a network that can support the necessary speeds, and a device that is able to connect to that network and download information at high enough speed. You can have the best smartphone or tablet in the world, but if the network you are using doesn’t support 4G speeds, you can forget about truly fast connectivity.

Data transfers – Differences

4G vs 3G
Another difference between older and newer types of connectivity is how data is transferred. Older networks use a system called circuit-switching which means that communication happens through one connection established directly to the target.

Newer networks on the other hand use packet-switching technology which breaks the information up into small pieces before sending it to the target. This system takes advantage of a number of connected points across the globe so it may happen that each piece will travel through a different path.

Circuit-switching is used for voice communication, while data is transferred through packet-switching.

In order to reconcile these two ways of communication, networks either allow the phone to fall back to circuit-switching standards when used to make or receive a call, or use packet-switching communication for data and circuit-switching for voice at the same time.

There is also a third option, that runs the voice audio as data over the new LTE networks. This option, however, is not very popular with networks because it allows less control over the minutes used.

The fastest connection

The 3G connectivity brought many significant improvements over the 2G system, but still it wasn’t enough and we can now enjoy 4th generation (4G) of mobile data technology. At the moment, LTE is the fastest connection available for wireless networks but since technology moves forward so fast, it’s just a matter of time until wise heads come up with even more advanced ways to communicate.

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