Technology Explained

EDGE, 3G, H+, Etc: What Are All These Mobile Networks?

Dan Price 15-02-2016

Nowadays, we seem to use our mobile phones for connecting to the Internet and other online services more than we use them for actually making phone calls.


Sadly, the quality of the Internet service you receive can vary significantly. For example, some countries have more advanced telecom networks than others. Remote areas of wilderness will not necessarily have the same quality of coverage as big cities.

And even something as simple as being indoors can have a significant effect.


Your smartphone lets you know the strength of your mobile Internet coverage by using an alphanumeric code near the signal bar. If you’ve ever noticed something like E, 3G, or H on the notification bar, you’ll know what we are talking about.

But what do all those codes mean? Keep reading to find out so you’re never confused or caught off guard.



Let’s work through these from slowest to fastest.

2G was first launched way back in 1991 and was the technology that ultimately allowed data services such as SMS and MMS to become prolific on mobile phones later in the decade.

It also signified the first time that radio signals became digital rather than analog (1G), thus providing greater spectrum efficiency and helping mobile phones with market penetration.

It only has a maximum speed of 50 kilobits per second, and in large parts of Europe and North America, the 2G networks are now being turned off. Despite that, it is still the network of choice in vast swathes of the developing world.



G is short for General Packet Radio Service (or GPRS). It started to become widely used in 2000 and earned the unofficial nickname of 2.5G. It is considered to be the first major stepping stone on the way to developing the now ubiquitous 3G networks.

It was the first “always on” mobile internet network, but it can only transfer data up to a maximum speed of 114 kilobits per second, which makes it the slowest connection that you’re likely to come across these days.

That speed means that although the network can support instant messaging services such as WhatsApp, apps and webpages that are more complex will either timeout, malfunction, or in the best of cases, load extremely slowly. (Certainly more slowly than is practical, and it’d probably drive you nuts.)


The letter E represents the Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (or EDGE) network. The network started to spread in popularity some time in 2003 by offering speeds that were almost three times faster than any of its predecessors.


It supports a maximum speed of 217 kilobits per second, so even though it’s significantly faster than G network speeds, you’ll still struggle to browse a modern website or watch YouTube videos in anything but the lowest resolutions.

That being said, there are now 604 EDGE networks in 213 countries, making it one of the most widely-used mobile Internet technologies in the world. It was the final widely-used network before 3G came into prominence, so it’s often referred to as 2.75G.


3G technology is actually a lot older than many people realize. The first commercial network was launched in Japan in October 2001, Norway followed suit in December 2001, and most of Europe and South East Asia was online by early 2002. The first 3G network in the United States was Verizon Wireless and went live in July 2002.

The 3G network is based on Universal Mobile Telecommunication Service (UMTS) standards rather than any of its three predecessors mentioned above (GSM, GPRS, and EDGE).


It was the first network that was fast enough to support mobile Internet browsing as we know it today, and thanks to its maximum speed of 384 kilobits per second, it’s more than adequate for streaming music and even some videos.

It is probably the most well-known of all the mobile Internet networks thanks to its widespread usage and the development of the smartphone. Today you’ll find 3G technology in everything from wireless voice telephones to mobile television.


An H symbol means that you have High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) connectivity. The HSPA standard is based on the same technology as 3G but replaces 3G’s UMTS standard, resulting in a maximum speed of 7.2 Megabits per second.

It can comfortably handle YouTube videos, Spotify streaming, Web browsing, and other app usage. It is not good enough, however, to support movie downloads or large torrent files — they would still take a very long time. Worldwide adoption began in 2010, and it’s now available in most developed countries.


H+ refers to Evolved High Speed Packet Access (HSPA+). There are five releases of this technology, each of which provides significantly greater download speeds than the previous version.

Release 6 brought a maximum speed of 14.4 Megabits per second, Release 7 upped that to 21.1 Megabits per second, Release 8 increased it further to 42.2 Megabits per second, Release 9 took it to 84.4 Megabits per second, before it topped out with Release 10 at a maximum speed of 168.8 Megabits per second.

As you can see, the technology evolved very quickly here, but it’s important to remember that one will rarely see these speeds during normal usage. This is the fastest form of connectivity that most people can get right now since global 4G networks are still limited in availability.


Do you see 4G in your notification bar? If so, give yourself a pat on the back, you are one of the lucky few who has access to the latest and greatest mobile network!

The first public 4G networks in the world came online in Stockholm and Oslo in 2009, and other countries slowly joined them in following years. In the U.K., the nationwide rollout occurred in 2014, while in the U.S., most of the largest cities now have the network.

Most of these networks use the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard, though some — including Sprint in the U.S. — are using the less-common Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) standard. In Europe and North America, most carriers will be dropping WiMAX by the end of 2017. 

For the end user, the differences between the two are negligible. The biggest shortcoming of WiMAX is that not enough carriers adopted it to make it viable, thus making LTE the de facto standard. Why did carriers choose against WiMAX adoption?

  • WiMAX networks don’t support legacy systems like 2G and 3G, while LTE is compatible and enables co-existence and easier roaming.
  • LTE has a higher maximum speed, especially as the next-gen LTE-A starts to rollout.
  • LTE draws less battery power on a handset.

Speeds on 4G will soon be able to go as high as 1 Gigabit per second. And for the record, rumors suggest that when 5G eventually arrives, it will be able to support speeds up to 1 Terabit per second! See our comparison of 4G LTE and 5G LTE vs. 4G vs. 5G: What's the Difference? Should your next phone be LTE or 4G? Maybe 5G? Learn which mobile broadband is fastest and compare LTE. vs 4G. vs 5G. Read More for more info.

Still Confused? Check This Chart!

If you’re still confused, or if you feel overwhelmed by everything above, the chart below will tell you everything you need to know about the speeds and standards you can expect from each type of network.


Looking at the speeds on that chart, it really is incredible how far we’ve come in the last 15 years. It would have been impossible to imagine Gigabit speeds back in 2000 — but isn’t that the way with so much of the tech world these days?

Who knows where we might be in another 15 years. Assuming we are up to 7G or 8G by then, we’ll probably be enjoying several Terabits per second. No more pixelated YouTube videos!

It’s not enough to know about mobile networks. If you’re planning to buy a new mobile phone, it’s also important to learn about cellular frequency bands Mobile Phone Cellular Frequency Bands Explained Your phone might not work when you take it abroad. This is due to the different mobile cellular frequencies used around the world. Read More to ensure maximum compatibility across carriers and locations.

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Related topics: Data Usage, Mobile Broadband, Mobile Plan.

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  1. Mayur
    April 4, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    I am currently on a 4G (LTE) network, though earlier I have used 3G (or HSPA and HSPA+), as well as 2G (or EDGE) networks. In my experience, there is a lot of difference between the theoretical and practical performances of the networks (the highest speed I have seen is roughly 20 Mbps). The coverage of the networks is quite good, and I have used it from small towns to large cities, in my country - India.

  2. ayy
    December 28, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    So helpful. Thanks a lot!

  3. P.Gopalun
    September 18, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    Using the SIM in the name of my son. Ported from Vodafone to Airtel recently.It is unfortunate that the 4G SIM given by them not working indoor.It is not actually 4G as the network shows as H and sometimes E. Hardly 4G appears for a moment.Network is not consistant

  4. Nora Fowler
    August 24, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Is term Global the same as WiMax?

  5. Raubil Mohammed Daraja
    July 20, 2017 at 12:53 am

    I am lucky enough to have 4G on my mobile and it faster than the the 2G and 3G I used before. Thanks to modern day technology.

  6. Raubil Mohammed Daraja
    July 20, 2017 at 12:47 am

    I WA sfirst

    June 13, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Pls am using edge network on my HTC one s phone....pls how can I upgrade my network to 3g....I really need it if it can be plz

  8. Bill
    May 22, 2017 at 10:12 am

    You might find this hard to believe but where I live I can't get any GPRS signal at all indoors and only an intermittent weak GPRS signal outdoors.
    Where do I live??
    In North West England within a triangle formed by Liverpool Manchester and Preston...!!
    Pathetic isn't the word.....

  9. Joe
    January 26, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    I'm on H+

  10. Leonard Alexis E. Balte
    January 2, 2017 at 2:52 am

    I am using EDGE network. What changes will I make in my mobile networks to boost my internet?

  11. pavan palwe
    December 27, 2016 at 4:51 am

    i am using h+ in my samsung j2 on idea sim

    • Karen A
      January 20, 2018 at 6:32 pm

      Is my bill going to be different using H+ on my consumer cellular?

  12. Musoke Deo
    August 22, 2016 at 5:29 am

    Just wanted to say thank you for the information although I'm using 3Gh+ .

  13. Anonymous
    July 26, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    I just inserted a non Verizon sum card into a Verizon pay as you go phone and to my surprise it worked but when I went into the settings it shows that I am on the EDGE network. It gives me the option to choose a network manually but if I try to switch network (other 2 options are at&t and Verizon) the sim card is not compatible with either of those networks. I am in the Sacramento area Northern California. I hope I don't sound too lost but that means my sim card is what determines my network correct? How do I know what network my provider uses before I purchase airtime? I'm talking pay as you go plan such as tracfone,consumers cellular , budget mobile etc.

  14. Jiranz
    February 17, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    Invercargill City deepsouth of New Zealand moved to 4G provider now getting close to 100mbs down and 33mbs up compares with previous copper at 11mbs down and 0.8mbs up in this rural location.

  15. Anonymous
    February 17, 2016 at 3:12 am

    Constant nice fast 4G.

  16. Anonymous
    February 16, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    There is a lot of misinformation on cellular data networks thanks to the marketing people from wireless companies. First off, the type of network has nothing to do with the "strength" of the signal but rather the type of wireless tower you are connected to for data.

    When 4G networks were first introduced, initially LTE was supposed to be called 4G in the US to stick with standards worldwide, but unfortunately many mobile operators in the US never updated their infrastructure fast enough to LTE, so they instead relied on HSPA+ (technically a 3G technology) and told people it was 4G, when it reality it was simply an "enhanced" 3G.

    So when LTE finally came along, these networks were already labeling their 3G networks as 4G, so they started to call LTE "4G LTE" which is actually just 4G using LTE technology as it should be. But at the same time LTE was only partially rolled out in a degraded state. Maximum download speeds were only in the 10-20mbps range, instead the actual speeds of 4G according to standards should have been closer to 150mbps which we are still no where near this.

    This is of course all standard technical standards outlined by the ITU. American mobile networks threw these standards out and instead used marketing to sell their networks not on the type of technology used but rather, saying one was faster than the other, etc. etc.

    I haven't even touched on CDMA networks. I could go on and on!

    • Aibek Esengulov
      February 24, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      thanks Shawn, that was informative