3G, 4G and other mobile connectivity explained

We all know that the little blobs or bars in the top-right corner of our smartphone displays indicate the level of signal strength we have when making a phone call. But what are the cryptic letters that are seen next to them?

GPRS, E, 3G and 4G are all indicators of signal strength for downloading and uploading data to your smartphone – for browsing the web, sending/ receiving emails, watching videos and so on. This is not the same as the signal strength of actual, oldfashioned phone calls, but the speed with which you can download or upload data.

Each generation of data network gets faster. We saw 2G from 1999, 3G from 2001, and 4G in 2012. 5G is some way o , though. If you see nothing next to the call-strength bars then you’re out of luck when it comes to downloading or uploading any data. You need to move to a location with better data signal strength or fi nd a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Wi-Fi on your smartphone
This is potentially the best and cheapest data delivery mode you’ll get using your smartphone. It can be super-fast, and it can be terribly slow, depending on the connection and the number of people using that Wi-Fi source. It won’t use up any of your smartphone's contract data allowance, so – unless you have to pay for it – it should be free, and will usually be pretty fast.

GPRS explained
One step up from no data signal at all is GPRS, which stands for General Packet Radio Service. Wikipedia defi nes GPRS as “a packet oriented mobile data service on the 2G and 3G cellular communication system's global system for mobile communications (GSM)”.

GPRS provides data rates of 35- to 171kb/s. 2G cellular technology combined with GPRS is sometimes described as 2.5G. It provides slowspeed data transfer. All you need to know is that GPRS means you might eventually get a web page to load or an email or iMessage to send, but it will probably take longer than you have patience. What’s it like? GPRS is like asking your elderly neighbour to deliver the mail for you.

EDGE explained
The E stands for EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution). This is a step up from GPRS and can reach speeds of between 120- and 384kb/s. What’s it like? Edge is like asking your neighbour’s child to deliver the mail for you.

3G, 4G, 5G