What’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween… 3G and 4G?

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QI re­cently up­graded to an iphone 7. This is the first phone I’ve had that has 4G. It doesn’t al­ways pick up a 4G sig­nal, so quite of­ten the dis­play says ‘3G’. How­ever, when it does this I can’t say I no­tice that the phone or the in­ter­net is any slower. So, what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween 4G and 3G? I thought 4G was loads faster than 3G, which is partly why I up­graded my phone and paid for a 4G con­tract. Have I been duped? Karen Wor­thing

AWhether you were duped de­pends on what you were told about 4G, but let’s take a few steps back.

The ‘G’ in both 4G and 3G stands for ‘gen­er­a­tion’, which de­scribes the evo­lu­tion of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy. It might be hard to re­mem­ber now but the first mo­bile phones were ana­logue, not dig­i­tal, and car­ried only speech — just like tra­di­tional lan­d­line phones.

Then, in the early 1990s, along came sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion (2G) mo­bile net­works. These were dig­i­tal sys­tems that in­tro­duced ba­sic data ser­vices, like text mes­sag­ing. It wasn’t im­pos­si­ble to browse the web on 2G net­works but with a max­i­mum speed of just 50Kbps — no faster than an old dial-up mo­dem — the ex­pe­ri­ence was atro­cious. Later im­prove­ments saw 2G’s top speed in­crease to around 1Mbps, but 3G was just around the cor­ner. By the early 2000s, 3G ser­vices be­gan ap­pear­ing, with the tech­nol­ogy promis­ing speeds of at least 2M 2Mbps. How­ever, de­pend­ing on the net­work and lo­ca­tion, the real-wworld speeds can ac­tu­ally be muchch hhigher. 4G is merely the latest evo­lu­tion of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, with pos­si­ble speeds of 100Mbps. Whether or not you re­ceive faster speeds when on 4G, or ac­tu­ally no­tice the dif­fer­ence when you do, de­pends very much on what you do on­line. The re­al­ity for many peo­ple is that they prob­a­bly won’t. For email, surf­ing the web and even stream­ing mu­sic and video, a good 3G sig­nal will feel ev­ery bit as nippy as a 4G one.

4G is the fourth gen­er­a­tion of mo­bile tech­nol­ogy and is much faster than 3G

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