3G, 4G, 5G Explained

The 3G standard uses a technology called UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) as its core network architecture. It fi rst saw the light of day in 2001. This network combines aspects of the 2G network with some new technologies and protocols to deliver a signifi cantly faster data rate. Possible 3G speeds are 384kb/s to 2Mb/s.

There’s another brand of 3G called HPSA, sometimes dubbed 3.5G, which boasts potential speeds of between 600kb/s and a whopping 10Mb/s, although the average is 1- to 3Mb/s. What’s it like? 3G is like asking delivering the mail yourself.

4G is the fastest data network speed you’ll see on your smartphone today. Depending on signal strength 4G can often be faster than using Wi-Fi, but also more expensive if you use a lot of data. On average it's fi ve times faster than 3G. 4G is based on the WiMAX or LTE (Long Term Evolution) systems, and has a theoretical maximum speed of 100Mb/s.

You'll never see that, though: 3- to 10Mb/s is the average. If you’re really lucky you might top 20Mb/s. There are di fferent bands of 4G. 2.6GHz 4G is the fastest, followed by 1.8GHz and 800MHz. While 800MHz doesn’t boast the same data capacity as the faster 4G bands, it is better at travelling over longer distances and in penetrating walls. Vodafone and EE both own chunks of the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands. EE also uses the 1.8GHz spectrum. O2 currently uses just the 800MHz 4G spectrum, so may su er in inner-city environments.

Three also uses the 800MHz band, and some 1.8GHz spectrum. To get 4G your smartphone needs to be compatible with the service. 4G subscriptions are usually more expensive than 3G, but if you download a lot of data it may well be worth it. Carriers claim that 98 percent of the UK should be able to access 4G within two years. What’s it like? 4G is like paying a speedy courier to deliver the mail for you.

After 4G comes 5G, which is expected in 2020. Samsung is working to develop a 5G network (mmWave Mobile Technology) with a potential top speed of 1Gb/s. That’s 100 times faster than 4G. “5G will be capable of providing a ubiquitous gigabit experience to subscribers anywhere and o ers data transmission speeds of up to several tens of Gb/s per base station”, boasts the company. What’s it like? 5G will be like using high-speed stealth drones to deliver your mail for you.

Downloads faster than uploads

Downloading stu on your smartphone is faster than uploading content. Much faster. In tests on our sister site Computerworld we found uploading to be painfully slow. While 3G mustered a 25kb/s throughput, 4G was able to move 41kb/s – not a terribly signifi cant improvement.

Clearly, this service is more useful for downloading large chunks of data, such as monster spreadsheets, videos and presentations, than for tasks such as uploading content or sending emails bulging with attachments.

mobile connectivity explained