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3G vs. 4G: Is It Worth It?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

As an employee in the IT profession, I am often asked what the latest and greatest is when it comes to upcoming technologies and services. One of the big questions is whether 4G technology on mobile phones and tablets is really worth it compared to its older counterpart, 3G. Most, if not all smart phones released today have the 4G radio built into the phone which gives access to the new network and potentially faster speeds. Each cell phone carrier (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc) has a different 4G Network. The big ones we’ll need to focus on are LTE, WiMax, and HSPA+.

First, let’s look at a comparison chart thanks to diffen.com


These are general estimates of the speeds of 3G and 4G comparatively. Just from this table we can see that 4G is considerably faster than 3G. However, tables don’t mean anything without data. I wanted to really test the speed of 4G just to confirm this website's claim. I have a Droid RAZR through Verizon which used the LTE 4G network. AT&T recently moved to LTE as well as Sprint. AT&T also uses the HSPA+ network on their previous iPhone 4’s however it’s not as fast as LTE. I connected my phone to the 4G network and ran a speed test to find out what kind of speeds I was getting. Here are the results of that test.

This was taken from my phone while at the IT Resource office on the 4G network. My download speeds were just about 18.6 Mbps which is far above the data throughout the table above. To put it into perspective, at those speeds we should be able to download a 5 Gigabyte movie in just less than 40 minutes or a full length CD in just about a minute and a half! However, it’s not nearly as high as the projected 1 Gbps which is expected. The same goes for the Upload speed. But, these numbers don’t mean much unless they’re compared to different tests. So, following that test I removed my phone from the 4G network so I was only using 3G to test the speeds. Here are the results from that test.

Take note, both the download and upload speeds are significantly slower compared to the 4G test done previously. And for reference, that same movie downloaded here would take almost six hours and that same CD would take over 6 minutes! While this was only done on the Verizon Network, the LTE technologies between the three big carriers (Sprint, Verizon and AT&T) are similar enough to warrant similar results.

Just to compare Phone Network speeds to home speeds, I decided to run a speed test against my home Internet Service Provider which is AT&T Uverse. I have the 18Mbps plan which is advertised at 18Mbps Download and 1.5Mbps Upload. Here are the results of that test.
 While not spot on, the results I received were close to what are advertised for my contract. However, they’re still slower than what I receive on my phone. This really shows how far along the phone companies have come regarding wireless connections and speed.

While these tests shouldn’t be used solely for your phone or internet decision making, hopefully it helps with making the next choice in phone technologies. Most companies will also offer a 4G solution for your home as well if you like the speeds you’re seeing. 

Of course, if you have any questions on phone technologies offered today and what phones are compatible with your network, please don’t hesitate to give IT Resource a call or refer to the Android and Apple and Blackberry…Oh my! blog post done back in February. We would love to hear from you!
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