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What are the major differences between 3G & 4G internet?

September 26, 2013 - Written By Chris Yackulic

As more 4G devices become available and carriers expand their 4G networks, more consumers consider making the move to 4G. If you’re thinking about moving from 3G to 4G, or you’re new to mobile internet, it’s worthwhile finding out more about 4G, and differences between 3G and 4G. You can learn more about iinets NBN offerings at http://www.iinet.net.au/nbn/

3G

The third generation of mobile communications technology is generally referred to as 3G. 3G was introduced around 2003 – although that depended on the country – and was an upgrade on earlier generations 1G and 2G. 3G expanded to be the dominant mobile internet network, and was much faster than previous generations.

4G

As you would expect, 4G is the fourth generation of mobile internet technology. Putting aside arguments that the 4G we have today is not ‘real’ 4G, it is still an upgrade on 3G for a number of reasons.

Speed

The biggest upgrade is speed. 4G users will generally notice much faster internet speeds on 4G than on 3G – however, the speeds experienced will vary greatly according to the location of the user, the user’s carrier, and the device the user is connecting with.

When experiencing 4G speeds, the user will have faster web browsing, faster uploads and downloads, less buffering on video, better sound quality, reduced lag when streaming, and better online gaming.

Latency

One reason 4G users can achieve higher connection speeds is the improved latency on 4G. Latency describes the time it takes for data to travel from a device or laptop to the internet and back again. 4G latency is around half that of 3G, which makes 4G connections seem much faster. This is ideal for frequent gamers, or those who use streaming services or video conferencing.

Congestion

Another reason 4G is faster than 3G is the fact that they use different networks. So many people use the 3G networks that they can often get congested, especially at peak hours. This leads to drop outs and slower connection speeds.

4G is newer, with fewer people using its networks to connect, which means it generally experiences less congestion – although this is likely to change as more people move to 4G.

 cell-towers

Frequencies

Carriers use different frequencies to broadcast 3G and 4G networks. Telstra uses 850MHz and 2100MHz to broadcast 3G, Vodafone uses 850MHz and 900MHz, and Optus uses 900MHz and 2100MHz. As for 4G, Telstra and Vodafone use 1800Mhz, and Optus uses 1800Mhz and 2300Mhz.

Coverage

One big difference between 3G and 4G is the coverage area. 3G has coverage pretty much everywhere, but the 4G networks are still expanding. This means 4G users can usually only get 4G coverage in the cities – but this will improve with time.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that 4G users may experience problems with battery life, as their device will continue to search for a 4G network even if there’s not one there. To conserve battery life, 4G can be switched off in non-4G coverage areas.