What are 3G and 4G and How Fast are they?

Have you ever wondered what is that thing on the screen of your cellphone that says 3G (or 4G)? I remember having this old Samsung Galaxy Mini 2 that had said a 3G icon.

Like me, maybe you thought “What's that, and what does it mean?” If you're in that group, worry not! Here's a quick summary of what 3G and 4G are and what helps us to tell them apart.


3G was a technology created to help make cellphones and smartphones functional when accessing the internet. Remember that there was a time when you couldn’t even load videos, download games or listen to music online without having to wait for what felt like centuries?

According to Three UK, a telecommunications and internet provider form the UK (as you guessed from its name), 3G helped to make these tasks go faster, so you wouldn’t have to browse YouTube without having to buffer them for unlimited minutes, only to give up in the attempt.

In comparison to its predecessor, 2G; the new generation known as 3G helped things to go faster, to check your e-mail or access Spotify, Pandora, etcetera. Theoretically speaking, the download speed of 3G is about 7.2Mbps (Megabits per second), but it can vary from up to 3Mbps or less (in my case, it was approximately 500kbps when I was living in Venezuela). This 3G thing also has something known as HSPA (or High-Speed Packet Access, or 3G.5), which is even faster than standard 3G.

Furthermore, this 3G technology helped to coin the term “mobile broadband”, because it helps you to have access to the internet from wherever you are – either in your car, on the train, or even on your ex’s lair.

With this cool thing, as opposed to the slow connection speed of its older brother, 2G technology, you can do many things, such as:

  • Access videos, music and games way, way faster than using 2G (up to 10 times faster. Neat, right?)
  • Share information (such as photos and music in a quicker way)
  • Download apps (such as Netflix or Maps) that make life easier and more enjoyable

In hindsight, 3G technology was an excellent precursor to what was to come. A newer way to communicate with the internet and with other humans (when they are not that annoying). It's called 4G.


A man holding an old antenna mobile phone


Now, let’s analyze what 4G is. Remember its predecessor, 3G? Well, 4G a new, faster upgrade from 2G and this 3G.

With this new 4G, internet connection and communication are taken to a whole new level. Internet and intercommunication capacities are more robust, reliable and have a better speed. TCCrocks goes further into this subject and describes what are the newest features in comparison to 3G.

4G has less buffering and lag when loading videos, music, and downloading any kind of media. As to buffering, remember that it is basically what keeps loading when you’re watching something on YouTube or listening to something on Spotify. On the other hand, lag is a delay in the internet speed (like when you’re playing CS: GO and you keep dying because your character gets stuck in the middle of nowhere).

However, there is more to what 4G is. There is also another version, called 4G LTE. “What are the differences between these two?” one might ask. Well, Verizon Wireless’ has some insight to offer on its website. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. It is used when 4G provides an even fastest internet experience.


A man in the car holding a smartphone

Different speeds

If you want to go technical and know the speed differences between 3G, 3G HSPA, 4G, and 4G LTE, there are some facts about it.

The guys from EE UK Store say that

  • 3G average download speed is 1.5Mbps
  • 4G network’s average download speed is 12-15Mbps, but they are improving their system so they can reach an average of 24-30Mbps and even 60Mbps.

The people back at 4G.com say that

  • 3G average download speed is 3Mbps,
  • 3G HSPA is 6Mbps,
  • 4G LTE is 14Mbps
  • 4G LTE Advanced (and even newer version of LTE) is 42Mbps (keep in mind that both EE UK and 4G.com comparisons are from the UK).

Our last comparison comes from Canstar Blue affirm that

  • 3G download rate takes up to 40 seconds to download a 50MB app and the
  • 4G takes up to 13 seconds to download the same 50MB app.

With that in mind, I guess that you have now a clear idea of the speed differences between these two generations. As you see, there is a gigantic gap between these generations.

Four individuals using a different smartphones and tablets



Once again, the guys from TCCrocks have some insight into these different technologies:

If you want to use 4G in your smartphone with 3G capabilities, make sure in the device specifications (either on the box or on the manufacturer’s website) that it can work with both technologies. Keep in mind that in most cases you will have to purchase a new cellphone with 4G capabilities. 

If you want to use 4G LTE, check if this cellphone can support this version, otherwise, you are going to have to get the newest smartphone that can adapt to this technology’s requirements.

There are also different ways you can get the 4G connection on your laptop for free 

An important fact is that, while 4G is almost everywhere, sometimes you’re in a place where this technology isn’t supported, so your cellphone will automatically switch to 3G. Also, 4G LTE doesn’t have as much coverage as 4G usually does, so keep this in mind when choosing what technology to use. Keep in mind that in some cases you can even hide what you browse and see on your cellphone by using a VPN specifically designed for these devices.

So, now that you’ve learned a lot about these different technologies and their differences, you can go outside and start talking about them like a tech geek, just like Joey Tribbiani did with his new Encyclopedia in Friends. Just make sure that you don’t mess it up as he did, but I’m sure that won’t be a problem… or I least I hope so.


Marcos González R.

Marcos is a Venezuelan Writer and Translator living in Argentina. He is a Seventh Day Adventist and is 23 years old. He is a proud culé (F.C. Barcelona fan), a big nerd for Batman (for real, like he knows about the comics and BTAS) and Computer stuff, and a world-class procrastinator. You can find him on Instagram as @marcosdg07.

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