3G vs. 4G Technology

How do 3G and 4G networks differ?

3G and 4G are terms used to describe the third and fourth generations of wireless cellular service. 4G is newer technology and generally delivers faster speeds than 3G. We explain the differences between these mobile broadband networks and how to boost your internet connection whether you're using 3G or 4G technology.

A woman holding a smartphone.
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3G

  • Can reach speeds of 3.1 megabits per second or more.

  • Speed is affected by signal strength, location, and network traffic.

  • 3G is still used in rural locations.

4G

  • Can reach speeds of up to 50 megabits per second.

  • Speed will fluctuate depending on how far you are from a network tower.

  • Most carriers offer 4G service in most areas of the country.

Both 3G and 4G technology connect mobile users to the internet and are huge improvements over earlier-generation network standards. The difference is that 4G technology offers much faster speeds and allows for more data-intensive online activities, such as videoconferencing and watching high-definition mobile TV.

3G Technology Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Greatly improved speeds over 2G technology.

  • Quick, easy access to online multimedia tools.

Disadvantages

  • Much slower than 4G technology.

  • Requires 3G-compatible handsets.

A 3G network is a high-speed mobile broadband network that uses the third generation of wireless technologies. 3G technology essentially ushered in the era of mobile data, bringing many enhancements over 2.5G and earlier network standards, such as high-speed transmission, advanced multimedia access, and global roaming.

3G is used mostly with mobile phones as a means of connecting to the internet. 3G networks have speeds of up to 3.1 megabits per second (Mbps) or more; that's similar to cable modem speeds. A 3G network's speed will vary, however, due to factors such as location, network traffic, and signal strength.

While the 3G standard is still used in rural locations and acts as a fallback for some wireless providers, it has largely been replaced by 4G.

4G Technology Pros and Cons

Advantages

  • Speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G.

  • Allows for hi-def mobile TV.

  • Easily access web, IM, social networks, streaming media, and video calling.

Disadvantages

  • Must have a device that supports 4G technology.

  • Not available in some rural areas.

  • Potentially more expensive data prices.

A 4G network is a high-speed mobile broadband network that uses the fourth generation of wireless technologies. 4G technology is a big improvement over 3G technology, offering speeds that are 10 times faster than 3G service. 4G can do everything 3G can do, only much faster. 4G can also handle high-def mobile TV, videoconferencing, and other data-intensive applications.

4G networks paved the way for widespread mobile internet use, with peak download speeds approaching 50 Mbps. However, the speeds you experience will depend on your phone's technology and your location.

4G technology is common throughout the world, but 5G wireless technology is now on the scene, ready to shake things up and make mobile communication faster and more reliable as more devices go online.

The terms 4G and 4G LTE are often used interchangeably, but 4G LTE, which stands for fourth-generation long-term evolution, delivers better performance and faster speeds. 

Comparing 3G and 4G Speeds in Megabits per Second

Although theoretical peak speeds don't often pan out in the real world, due to factors such as latency, below are the speed requirements that a provider must abide by in order to have a connection that falls under the 3G or 4G category.

4G vs. 3G: Theoretical Maximum Speeds
Network Download Speed Upload Speed
4G LTE-Advanced 300 Mbps 150 Mbps
4G LTE 150 Mbps 50 Mbps
3G HSPA+ 42 Mbps 22 Mbps
3G 7.2 Mbps 2 Mbps

However, as shown in the 2019 Speedtest.net report on 4G speeds and the 2019 OpenSignal 3G mobile network experience report, the average, real-world download and upload speeds for the four major wireless carriers in the U.S. are a little different:

4G vs. 3G: Real-World Maximum Speeds
Carrier 4G Download Speed 3G Download Speed
AT&T 24.6 Mbps 3.3 Mbps
T-Mobile 24.3 Mbps 4.2 Mbps
Verizon 23.8 Mbps .9 Mbps
Sprint 21.1 Mbps 1.3 Mbps

How to Boost Your Internet Connection

Whether you are on a 3G or 4G network, there are a number of things to try that will speed up your internet connection. Boosting your connection means eliminating any factors that are slowing it down so it can return to a level that's considered normal.

Boosting your internet connection doesn't mean trying to push it over the maximum allowed level or creating some sort of new unlimited internet connection.

Desktops or Laptops

Speed up your internet connection by changing the DNS servers you're using so that pages load more quickly. (There are several free DNS servers that will do the job for you.)

Another method is to close any programs that are using the internet and hogging the limited bandwidth you have available.

Mobile Devices

Maximum 4G or 3G speeds are attainable only if you're not already running other data-intensive applications. For example, if you want to load a YouTube video as fast as possible on your 4G network, close out of Facebook or games that are using the internet.