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The battle of the G networks

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mobile networks have been advancing at a rapid pace throughout the last decade and the battle between mobile carriers has driven the development of  infrastructure to unimaginable data transfer speeds.

If you look at any advertisement produced by  providers in the United States you will constantly see the term 4G LTE. However in many parts of the world the technology is still under-developed where carriers still rely on the “primitive” 2G network.

Let’s take a closer at the differences between the generations of mobile networks; 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G LTE.


2G which stands for Second Generation wireless technology brought cell phone technology into the digital age with the introduction of Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS). 2G technologies can be divided into Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA)-based and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)-based. Out of these early technologies GPRS (General packet radio service) was evolved and later evolved into EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution).

The slower GPRS network provides commercial users with maximum data transfers of approximately 80-100 kilobits per second which can download a 5 megabyte mp3 song in just under 10 minutes. EDGE networks, however can deliver up to double the speed of GPRS at approximately 200 kilobits per second. A 5 megabyte mp3 song can be downloaded in just over 2 minutes at this speed. It is important to note, though, that once there are several thousand users using the network at the same time the speed gets dramatically reduced as the data gets shared across multiple devices.


3G, short for third Generation, is the third generation of mobile telecommunications technology. 3G networks support services that provide an information transfer rate of at least 200 kilobits per second. However, many services advertised as 3G provide higher speed than the minimum technical requirements for a 3G service. These are the 3.5G and 3.75G networks.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) as well as CDMA2000 are the technical terms that we label 3G, and with the infrastructure in place it can be used in voice calls, video calls, mobile internet access and even mobile TV/Video streaming. The speeds provided by 3G networks are much faster than those offered by its 2G counterpart and it has become one of the most common network types available. The latest UMTS release is (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access) HSPA+, and it can provide peak data rates up to 56 megabits per second or 57,344 kilobits per second. When compared with 2G speeds, we can see the significant upgrade it data speeds.


Although 3G may seem fast and efficient enough to get the day to day mobile task done, engineers wondered if they would be able to push the mobile wireless technology a step further, and offer speeds that would be mined blowing fast, even unthinkable to some. Well, the answer was most definitely; and in 2010 the ITU-R completed their assessment of six candidate submissions for the global 4G mobile wireless broadband technology, otherwise known as IMT-Advanced. By now it is obvious what these short form terms stand for, but what exactly is 4G, and how does it differ from 3G? Well, to get there, we will need to understand the two technologies that make up 4G; WirelessMan-Advance or WiMAX and LTE-Advance, as these are the two technologies qualified by the ITU-R as the true 4G. WiMax is a wireless communication standard designed to provide 30 to 40 megabit per second data rates, with the 2011 update providing up to 1 Gbit/s for fixed stations. Created by the WiMAX forum, WiMAX as a standards based technology enabled the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL. LTE Advance on the other hand is also a mobile communication standard, formally submitted as a candidate 4G system to R in late 2009, was approved into ITU, International Telecommunications Union, IMT-Advanced and was finalized by 3GPP in March 2011. It is standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as a major enhancement of the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard. However, there are so many variations of 4G that one is left asking, which one is real? Honestly, they all are. After the ITU-R qualified WirelessMan-Advance and LTE-Advance as the true 4G in 2010, they later backed down when carriers ignored their standards. 4G now consist of HSPA+ 21/42, WiMAX, and LTE (although some consider LTE the only true 4G). There is one thing that can be certain, each new Generation will offer faster internet speeds than its predecessor.

Which one is for you? Well, personally I recommend considering two things. First consider your current mobile device, and whether it’s worth upgrading to the latest and greatest. Secondly, consider your data usage, but be very careful with those data limits, it’s very easy to run them up while you are having fun. If you have a 3G phone and you’ve been frustrated with clogged-up network, 4G may be the solution. You’ll be switching to a less-trafficked network for your internet data. 4G probably won’t solve your dropped calls, though, as all calls will be made over 3G networks until carriers switch to voice-over-LTE during the next few years.

4G coverage is only going to get better with time, so why not future proof yourself before the hardware gets too expensive. It’s time for a new Generation!

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