3G vs. 4G: Which is Better?

Pros and cons of the 3G and 4G networks

Most mobile phones and smartphones run the 3G network, both for voice and data access. 3G is also used by some of the biggest carriers. Still, with the advent of 4G, 3G manages to retain its popularity.​​ We compared 3G and 4G to help you decide which is best suited for your cellphone needs.

This article is retained for archival purposes. 3G is a legacy technology. 4G is the most widely available wireless standard, with 5G making its debut.

3G vs 4G
 Lifewire
3G
  • Fast enough for plenty of uses.

  • Wider spread availability.

  • Supported by older devices.

  • May be more stable.

4G
  • Considerably faster.

  • Better for data-intensive tasks, like streaming video.

  • Wider range.

  • Improved security.

4G, which has become the standard for wireless communication, has many loyal customers around the world. 3G is fast. However, 4G is three to four times faster and 5G will likely replace both of these soon. Like everything, 3G and 4G networks have advantages and disadvantages. Here's a detailed analysis of 3G vs. 4G.

3G Networks Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • Offers faster data transfers than 2G.

  • Fast enough for GPS.

  • Powerful enough for standard definition multimedia.

  • Enough bandwidth for visual voicemail apps.

  • Can handle some mobile games.

  • Apps for mobile TV, IM, and video chatting.

Disadvantages
  • Significantly slower than 4G.

  • Users can participate in video conferencing sessions; however, performance is lacking.

  • Can't handle HD streaming.

Generally, 3G is fast enough for most things you do on your phone. It's significantly faster than the previous generation 2G standard, and it's capable of delivering speeds up to 2 Mbps. That might not seem like much, but basic uses, like web browsing and social media, don't require much bandwidth.

3G also offers enough bandwidth for key app functionality. GPS falls well within the bandwidth range of 3G. The same can be said for lower resolution multimedia streaming, including video chatting, graphics, and animation. In addition, the basic functionality that you expect from a phone, like calling and sending text messages, works smoothly on 3G.

3G is still slow by current standards. It can't compete with 4G and 4G LTE in terms of speed, let alone 5G. As app developers take advantage of the increasing capabilities of newer phones, 3G will not be able to handle the amount of data that apps require to function normally. 3G is best reserved as a fallback for calling and text messages.

4G Networks Pros and Cons

Advantages
  • Good for advanced mobile services such as video and movie streaming.

  • Unlike Wi-Fi, 4G has far expanded coverage.

  • Enhances data safety and privacy.

  • Several payment options.

  • Widely available.

Disadvantages
  • Not available in many locations around the world.

  • Some areas may experience bugs or glitches.

  • Devices are more expensive.

4G offers a significant increase in speed and bandwidth over 3G. It does everything that 3G can, only better and more of it. 4G was built for streaming video, and it excels at streaming. 4G has enough power to handle streaming video in HD, including services, like Netflix, and video messaging apps, like Facetime.

4G features security enhancements. Because many people put a large portion of their lives on their phones, added security is a benefit. It benefits businesses as well, providing a more secure alternative to Wi-Fi.

4G coverage is widespread and relatively complete. There aren't many areas that don't have available 4G coverage. This is an advantage over other wireless options, like Wi-Fi that has a limited range.

4G devices come with a significant price increase over their 3G predecessors. This added cost can be a deterrent, but many providers offer low-cost devices, and others offer payment plans.

Even though 4G is widely available, it isn't available everywhere. Some areas may experience disruptions and spotty service.

Final Verdict: 4G is the Clear Winner

Both 3G and 4G networking have a great deal to offer in terms of speed and quality. 4G technology has caught on and has become the primary connectivity technology. Go with 4G until 5G becomes prevalent.