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Geek Girl Report: Nothing But A 4G Thing – The Difference Between 3G and 4G Cell Phone Networks

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New, improved 3G network! Super-fast 4G LTE! If you’re been phone-shopping this Christmas, you’ve probably seen these terms thrown around all over the place. But does anyone know what they actually mean? What makes 4G so much better than 3G, and is it really worth all the hype? The short answer is: not so much. For the long answer, check out the Geek Girl’s crash course in 3G and 4G networks.

What is 3G?

First things first, 3G and 4G stand for “third generation” and “fourth generation,” respectively, and refer to a certain generation of mobile technology. A 3G network is one that allows its users to connect to the Internet with a consistent speed of at least 144 kilobytes per second. (Kbps) In less technical terms, it’s the generation of the smartphone. Anything you can do on your smartphone, from streaming audio and video to checking your Facebook and Twitter, is made possible by the 3G network.

What is 4G?

4G, on the other hand, can be summed up in one word: fast. 4G networks boast a much faster connection speed than its 3G predecessors. And…well, that pretty much it. What makes 4G a bit hard to describe is that it has no established standard. There’s no minimum connection speed on a 4G network, as opposed to the 144Kbps speed of 3G.  And the truth is, 4G is still kind of in its developmental stages. it has not been universally adopted by all carriers, and there are still plenty of areas in the U.S. that don’t support 4G coverage.

So, which one is best for me?

The answer to that question really depends on what you’re using your phone for, and what kind of coverage you get in your area. If you’re big on surfing the web and downloading large chunks of audio and video on your mobile device, 4G is something you’ll want to take a look at. However, do your research first and make sure 4G is available in your area. Here in Lubbock, for example, both AT&T and Verizon offer 4G coverage.

For the rest of us, 3G is still the way to go. There’s really no clear advantage to 4G, save for faster download times, and 3G will actually be better for your battery as these 4G phones are notorious battery hogs. (I can tell you from personal experience that I have to charge my 4G phone nearly every night.) And in some cases, some 3G networks are actually faster than some of the so-called “4G” networks.

Remember, a bigger number isn’t always better, so make sure you do your homework before jumping to a new network or purchasing a new phone.

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