How Fast Are 4G and 3G Internet Speeds?

A woman holding a smartphone.

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Faster is always better when it comes to internet access. This applies to not only simple browsing but also media streaming, app downloading, gameplay and video calls. It's hard enough, however, getting super-fast internet access at home, let alone top speeds on our smartphones and tablets over 4G or 3G.

Just how fast should you expect your mobile devices to be? Part of it does have to do with the speed of your provider, like Verizon or AT&T, but other factors come into play too like your signal strength, what else is running on your device, and any latency, which can affect delays, video and audio calling, video streaming, web browsing, etc.

You can test how fast your connection to the network is with various speed testing apps, like the speed test app available for Android and iOS. If you're accessing the 4G or 3G network via a computer, see these free speed testing websites.

4G and 3G Speeds

Although theoretical peak speeds are only theoretical and hardly pan out in real-world scenarios (due to things like latency), these are the speed requirements that a provider must abide by in order to have a connection that falls under the 4G or 3G category:

  • 4G: 100 Mbps for high mobility like service from a moving car. 1 Gbps for low mobility like when walking or not moving at all
  • 3G: 7.2 Mbps or 52 Mbps on 3G HSPA+

However, as you can see here, a study from RootMetrics found the average, real-world download and upload speeds for the four major wireless carriers in the US to be a bit different:

  • AT&T's 4G LTE network was found to be the fastest, with average download speeds of 18.6 Mbps and upload speeds of 9.0 Mbps. It's older 3G network, by contrast, averaged 4.3 Mbps download and 1.1 Mbps upload. AT&T's LTE network had an 81.7% network connection rate. The maximum download speeds measured in this study clocked AT&T's 4G network at 19.6 Mbps.
  • Verizon came in second, with 14.3 Mbps for downloads, on average, and average upload speeds of 8.5 Mbps. Although it comes in slightly behind AT&T, Verizon has a larger footprint and 90% connectivity. The fastest speed measured was 49.3 Mbps.
  • Sprint averaged 10.3 Mbps for downloads and 4.4 Mbps for uploads, and the network was accessible 50.2% of the time. 32.7 Mbps was the highest speed found for Sprint.
  • T-Mobile's HSPA+ network averaged 7.3 Mbps for downloads and 1.5 Mbps for uploads. So, better than 3G but 4G LTE is faster.

How to Boost Your Internet Connection

Keep in mind that when we say "boost your internet connection," we're not talking about pushing it over the maximum allowed level or creating some sort of new internet connection where there are no limits. Instead, to boost your connection just means to scrape away anything that might be making it slow so that it can return to a level that's considered normal.

If you find that your connection is slow over either 4G or 3G, there are a number of things you can do to try speeding up that connection on your side of it.

For example, if you're on a computer, you can make your internet connection faster at home by changing the DNS servers you're using so that pages load quicker (there's a list of free DNS servers here). Another method is to close down any other programs using the internet that are sucking away at the limited bandwidth you have available.

Or, if you're on an Android smartphone or tablet, boost your internet speed with the free Internet Speed Master app. The same concept applies to bandwidth on mobile devices too. Maximum 4G or 3G speeds are only attainable if you're not already running lots of other things at once. 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.