What's the Difference Between 3G & 4G?

Written by laurie junkins
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What's the Difference Between 3G & 4G?
As of December 2010, 4G is not yet widely available across the U.S. (on air image by Grzegorz Kwolek from Fotolia.com)

The mobile phone and mobile Internet industry's wireless connection method is currently in its third generation (3G) and very quickly approaching its fourth (4G) in terms of technology evolution. As of late 2010, one mobile carrier advertises a 4G network that is faster than 3G, but it is not true 4G in terms of technology. Other carriers, however, are on the cusp of offering true 4G network coverage that includes all aspects of the newer generation.


Wireless is the term used to describe telephone and Internet accessibility without having to be plugged into a wired port. This technology is what allows you to work online from virtually any location with a wireless card, or to use your mobile phone or smartphone rather than a traditional landline.


The 3G and 4G networks differ greatly in terms of compliant technologies. In 2010, numerous wireless protocols used by different carriers are compliant with 3G networks, including WCDMA, EV-DO and HSPA. Other technologies, such as LTE, WiMax and UMB, are referred to as 4G by the carriers that use them, but none actually reaches the 4G standard speed specifications.


Another major difference between the 3G and 4G networks is that 3G still uses circuit switching for voice calls and video. This is the original telephone switching method, which has been used since the origin of telephone networks. 4G, however, utilises packet switching---the more efficient technology used in computer networks---for everything, including voice calls and video.


The difference between 3G and 4G that will matter the most to the end user is speed. A 3G network is capable of reaching speeds of up to 3 megabits per second, which is far faster than a dial-up connection, but multiple users in a given area will slow down access. 4G is engineered to provide broadband speed that is exponentially faster than 3G, measured in gigabits per second, and currently only reachable on wired local area networks.


The success of a wireless connection depends on coverage, which can be spotty. Though 3G coverage spans the U.S., areas where the signal is weak cause dropped calls and the inability to access the Internet, which is exacerbated by the fact that users in a given area are sharing the signal, slowing it further. As of December 2010, 4G is only available in large cities, but when coverage is expanded, it will create a significantly faster and more reliable connection.

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