Wireless Alphabet Soup Explained: What Is 4G, 3G, LTE, & More [MakeUseOf Explains]
We just absolutely love acronyms, don’t we? So much so that we use them literally everywhere to have a shorter way to name something. Whether it’s an official acronym such as USB or something unofficial like FB, there’s simply way too many for us to remember. Additionally, there are a good number of acronyms which have multiple meanings, all depending on the context you’re using them in.
When it comes to wireless service and our smartphones, there’s no shortage of acronyms – GPRS, EDGE, 3G, 4G, and LTE all exist to make our everyday lives even more confusing. If you are a tech-savvy reader you may know what they mean, but what about your mother? All of those acronyms tell you about the data speed and quality of connection, and to make things easier we’ll go in order from worst to best.
The slowest of the slow is GPRS. Short for General Packet Radio Service, it was one of the first modern technologies for data transfers via cellular networks. It wasn’t the absolute first, as an alternate name for GPRS is 2.5G, or second and a half generation. Its speeds maxed out anywhere from 56–114 kbit/s. Don’t let that number fool you though, as any of today’s modern sites would take practically forever to load, even in their mobile versions.
While almost all areas within the United States which have cellular service use a better data service, there are still a few spots where only GPRS exists.
The next technology is known as EDGE, or Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution. While officially more of a 2.9G, this standard is what people today commonly call 2G. The use of Internet over cellular networks really started to kick off under this technology, with rates of up to 1 Mbit/s but typically around 400 kbit/s. Compared to GPRS, this is a couple of times faster, and made Internet usage on mobile devices pretty bearable. However, as more people started to use the Internet through mobile devices, it spurred the development of even faster technologies.
With the introduction of 3G, mobile Internet really kicked off. Third generation mobile communications brought major speed boosts, up to maximums of about 28 Mbit/s. This allowed smartphone apps to be downloaded at reasonable speeds, and made mobile Internet more accessible as a whole. Today, most areas in the United States which have cellular service are covered with 3G service, so anyone can access the Internet practically anywhere.
4G & LTE
Today, most urban areas are enjoying 4G service, or fourth generation. Again, there are more improvements to voice quality as well as data transmission speed, up to roughly 100 Mbit/s. Most of today’s smartphones are 4G-capable. Carriers often label it as “high speed data” and limit how much of it you can use before you’re forced to use a lower speed, usually 3G or EDGE. However, more recently there’s been a modification known as LTE, or Long Term Evolution. It is most commonly marketed as one unit – 4G LTE – but it simply improved on regular 4G by providing data transfer speeds of up to roughly 300 Mbit/s.
Your phone – whetheror iPhone – still needs to be capable of LTE and not just 4G to be able to use “4G LTE”. 4G and/or LTE has also spawned the first few purely wireless Internet service providers. They’re just like your cable or DSL service providers, except wireless.
Thankfully, all of these technologies were created one after another, so we’re on a clear path of evolving our wireless communications to new levels. Currently it’s projected that 5G technology will become a standard around 2020, but who knows if there’s going to be another upgrade to 4G before then at the pace we’re currently going. One thing is for certain – everything is getting continually faster as our needs become more complex. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be able to download Angry Birds in mere seconds.
How fast do you think wireless data can get? Are there highly beneficial uses for wireless Internet other than mobile devices? Let us know in the comments!