Difference Between 3G and 4G

29 October 2015

Not all carriers in Canada offer 4G internet. Even the ones that do don't cover the whole country, so you could find yourself dropping back to 3G depending on where you are.

In some ways 3G and 4G networks do the same thing. Both are capable of connecting your phone to the internet, but at varying speeds. 3G is also used as a Voice and Messaging backbone for most carriers. Right now, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) or 4G Voice is not particularly common, leaving 4G as a Data-only technology in most cases.

Obviously there are some in-depth technical differences, but from a user's perspective, here are a few quick facts:

  • 4G is often up to 10x faster or more for internet than 3G in real-world use.
  • Typically 4G is most common in major cities, and on the roads linking them.
  • If a carrier offers 4G, it does not cost more to go with 4G than 3G; you simply pay for access to the network and you'll always receive the best possible speeds that your device can handle your geographical location.
  • You need a 4G device to use a 4G network. Some devices only support 3G, although these are increasingly rare.

As you can see, the difference between the speeds of 3G and 4G really start to show as the size of the files increases. This is due, in part, to one of the small detail differences between the two: 3G speeds often ramp up over time, while 4G speeds remain consistently fast from the beginning to end of a download.

More importantly, you can see how for everyday use, there is a pretty small difference. If you mostly use the internet connection in your phone to browse Facebook, download emails and browse the internet, you mightn't really notice the difference between 3G and 4G when you have a strong network connection.

If you're doing something like watching YouTube, streaming music or loading pages with tonnes of photos and gifs, 4G is definitely recommended for best speed.

Which is better for you?

It comes down to price vs coverage and speed. Carriers that only have 3G networks tend to be significantly more-affordable than those with huge, nation-wide 4G networks.

It's up to you to decide if you're happy to pay less and go with 3G, or if you'd prefer a larger carrier and get 4G.

3G is still a crucial part of the national mobile network backbone. Where once older 2G technologies It handled most calls and texts, 3G has taken over that burden. As for data, 3G has been around much longer, meaning the network infrastructure has had more time to spread out. There are still large portions of the country with 3G support, but no 4G.

Things to keep in mind:

  • 4G is much faster than 3G
  • You don't pay extra for 4G services from carriers that provide both 3G and 4G
  • All voice calls are placed over the older 3G networks (for now)
  • Most new phones are 4G-ready, except for some of the cheapest models
  • 3G is still fast enough to handle most day-to-day internet services
  • Some carriers are 3G-only. These tend to offer cheaper plans to compensate.

Got any questions about 3G and 4G networks? Leave us a comment below.



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