Knowledge Base

3G and 4G Technology Compared: Next Generation Mobile Technology

grand master



The history of mobile telecommunications has been covered extensively here in multiple blog posts at giffgaff. Since the first mobile phone was demonstrated almost 40 years ago in 1973, the mobile phone has taken the world by storm. Today, 70% of the world’s population now has access to a mobile phone with 81 million mobile connections being in active use in the UK alone (the population of the UK is only 62 million!)


In those 39 years, the mobile phone has undergone some major changes. From a comically huge handset that could simply make phone calls, the mobile phone has evolved into today’s smartphone powerhouse which can call, text, instant message, stream videos on a super-sharp display and more.


When we look at the history and the future of the mobile phone, we can broadly split it up into four different “generations”. Each generation of mobile technology takes advantage of new developments in radio communications and mobile processor technology to allow you to do more with your mobile phone. In this article, we look at the different generations of mobile technology and explore what the future of mobile technology might look like.


The Benefits of 4G Technology


bike.jpgAt the moment, most of us currently use third-generation mobile technology (or 3G technology) on our smartphones. 3G technology has opened up a world of new multimedia and communication possibilities on our smartphone: we can now instantly share photos on Facebook from anywhere in the world, we can video call our friends and we can stream live Euro 2012 football matches whenever and wherever we are.


As of 2012, most of the UK’s mobile networks provide a 3G service with HSPA+ technology. This can offer download speeds of up to 21Mbit/s from your smartphone or tablet. In a couple of years (possibly around 2014), the UK will begin to have fourth-generation or 4G mobile technologies. Benefits of 4G technology include:


  • Faster response times. One benefit of 4G technology is faster response times, or in tech-lingo “lower latency”. At the moment on a 3G connection, it takes around 1/10th of a second (100ms) for information to be exchanged between your mobile phone and the internet. This doesn’t sound like a lot but it can be quite significant for online multiplaying gaming. It also makes it difficult to develop applications such as an augmented reality app for object/facial recognition or a real-time voice-to-voice translation app. 4G technology reduces latency to 1/100th of a second (about 10ms). This opens up the possibility of all kinds of new applications on your smartphone. Smarter appliances and M2M technology could also benefit from lower latency on 4G.

  • Faster download speeds. Today’s 3G mobile networks typically offer download speeds of up to 7.2Mbit/s or up to 21Mbit/s (it depends on the speeds that are supported by your handset). 4G networks promise download speeds of up to 100Mbit/s. These super-fast download speeds will allow you to stream high-definition video from your smartphone or tablet whilst on-the-go and can make it practical to store all of your content in the cloud and access it in fractions of a second.

  • Lower costs. 4G networks are designed for data. Everything including your normal phone call can simply be treated as data on a 4G network. Your phone call becomes a voice-over-IP call in much the same way as a Skype or FaceTime phone call. The move towards packet-switched phone calls that are transmitted over the internet lowers costs.

2G, 3G and 4G: What’s the difference?


The different generations of mobile technology compare as follows:



Max Download Speed

Key Benefits



Analogue mobile networks that require dedicated frequencies for each active phone call.



Digital networks allowing SMS, access to basic WAP sites.



Improved speeds.



Fast, always-on access to mobile web. Can stay connected to the web during a phone call. Picture messages and video calls.



Basic feature in most of today’s smartphones. Fast always-on access to the internet. Provided by all UK mobile networks.



Supported in high-end devices e.g. HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III. Improved download speeds. A HSPA+ service is offered by most UK networks including giffgaff.

3G Dual-Carrier HSPA+


Doubling of download speeds. DC-HSPA+ networks are set to launch in the UK in 2012, but very few handsets currently support it.



Due to launch in the UK around 2014 subject to completion of spectrum auction process. Faster download speeds and lower latency (~10ms compared to ~100ms for 3G HSPA+)


In the UK, most of our mobile networks currently support 3G HSPA+ technology. This means that providing you’ve got a compatible handset such as the HTC One X or the Samsung Galaxy S III, you’ll be able to experience download speeds of up to 21Mbit/s (typical speeds are more like 4Mbit/s). Not all handsets support HSPA+ though: many handsets such as the HTC Wildfire S and the Orange San Francisco only provide support for 3G HSPA technology. 3G HSPA technology offers download speeds of up to 7.2Mbit/s (typical speeds around 1.5Mbit/s).


Note that HSPA+ services are sometimes marketed as 4G services internationally. HSPA+ isn’t a true 4G technology but some people argue that it can provide comparable download speeds.


The Current State of 4G


New iPad.jpg4G mobile networks in the UK will make use of the frequencies that are being freed up by the analogue television switch-off. The switch-off is due to be completed by the end of 2012 with 4G networks likely to launch around 2014 once the spectrum auction process has been completed.


Whilst we’re still awaiting 4G technology in the UK, other countries have already begun to see 4G mobile services. For instance, Germany has had 4G networks since 2010 (the German switch-over to digital television was completed in 2009).


Mobile phone manufacturers have also begun to launch 4G-enabled phones: the HTC One XL and Samsung Galaxy S III (LTE edition) being two examples. The iPad 3 also supports the US-variant of 4G (though it won’t work on European 4G networks). Downsides of 4G technology currently include poor battery life and difficulties in changing between 3G and 4G networks. These issues are likely to be resolved over the coming years before 4G is launched in the UK.


Your Thoughts…


4G technology is set to be the next step ahead in mobile technology. It’ll provide you with a faster and more responsive online experience on your smartphone and tablet. Potentially that can mean all kinds of exciting new applications: for example high-definition video streaming, real-time voice-to-voice translation between different languages, instant access to all of your files in the cloud, split-second augmented reality object recognition and live multiplayer gaming from your smartphone. It could also lead to smarter and more intelligent home appliances.   


Are you excited about 4G technology or are you more than happy with today’s 3G services? What kind of ultra-responsive mobile applications would you like to see on your smartphone? What would be the “killer application” of 4G for you? Could your 4G-enabled smartphone help you to communicate in new ways or enhance your daily life? We’d love to hear your thoughts… please do drop us a comment below!


Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.


This guest post is intended to review the different generations of mobile technology. Its contents do not necessarily reflect the current or future plans or offerings of any mobile network.  

lives and breathes giffgaff
I'm not excited about it as presently we get 2g slow patchy speeds on any network and using broadband

My thinking is in this that its about time they come up with a plan to recieve a good sigal any were in the country you are you would think in this century that would have been thought about!

Nice article thou thanks


Voice calls are very inefficient on bandwidth so the switch to voice over IP is a great improvement. Hopefully the extra bandwidth gained from voice calls will allow higher data allowances.


can't be excited, if we'll be getting 4g in 2014 at best, we need 4g now, especially when US, Germany or other countries will have a massive head start over UK, who knows by the time we are on 4g, they might be on 5g..


By the time I get 3G there will be a 6G - I am still on the amazing 2G and when I travel (15 miles) I get the amazingly fast 2G Edge. WooHoo!


I once went into an area with HSPA - I am surprised I came home and didn't just pitch a tent; it was faster than my home Internet!

*There was huge sarcasm in my post! Smiley Happy*


I think it will be brilliant once people have the ability to do, as cheaply and as quickly on their mobile devices, whatever they on their home broadband now. Watch TV, videos, and HD films. Play multiplayer online games. Video call, and video conference, wherever you are.


I personally think it will be a long time coming, as even though we might see "4G" heading to the UK by perhaps 2014, the mobile networks will want to make their usual large profits from their customers.


Not until a "4G" mobile network, like giffgaff, comes along can we truly say that "4G" has arrived.


P.S. Pink, I think the idea with "4G" is, as it is run on the same frequencies as old analogue TV, so it should have much better coverage and range than current technologies...?

rocket scientist

I thought one of the main advantages of 4g over 3g apart from download speed was going to be the effective range from the mast.


If that is correct does any one know how much better the range will be ? 

interesting, I can't wait for 4g!

We keep being told that we are one of the leaders in Europe and yet we see that when it comes to technology we lag well behind,


swnd cool, cant wait for 4G