3G – 4G – 5G Network: What’s the difference?

“The nation’s first 5G network.”

“On the largest, most advanced 4G LTE network.”

“The nation’s fastest 3G network.”

We’ve heard those phrases countless times over the past 15 years as mobile carriers try to prove that their wireless network is better than competitors.  But, have we ever really understood what that means and how it impacts us as users?

As the 5G network, the next generation of wireless technology, is being phased out, let’s take a look at how each generation revolutionized mobile communications.

Insight into each generation


Introduced in the early 2000s, 3G became the third generation of wireless technology.  The previous generations (1G and 2G) permitted voice calls, text messages (SMS), and multimedia messaging service (MMS). This new generation became the first to support wireless Internet access capabilities.  With that feature, 3G networks could handle the first smartphones offering increased bandwidth and transfer rates to accommodate internet applications and audio and video files.  3G bandwidth is 2mbps, meaning that the download time for downloading an app would be around one minute.


The speed of the 3G network quickly became insufficient as technology and smartphones evolved.  The next generation came around 2010 in two categories 4G and 4G LTE (referred to as just LTE).  This generation drastically improved data transfer speeds.  4G combability was about improved speeds as the solution to slow data problems.  4G LTE had even faster upload speeds and was developed based on IP standards.  With speeds faster than 3G, 4G bandwidth is 200 mbps, which translates to the download time for a full-length movie is about 10 minutes.


First announced at the end of 2018, 5G towers are now being built, bringing the newest network generation to the masses.  Reports state that the 5G network provides the fastest speed, decreased transfer rates, increased bandwidth and provides more opportunities for connectivity and reliability.  Latency times could be as little as 1 millisecond or less.  That is significantly lower than the 120 milliseconds on the 3G network.  Anticipated download speeds of around 1 Gbps will become standard.  Or in simpler words, downloads and data transfer will seem instantaneous.  The download time for a high-definition full-length movie will be seconds.  The introduction of 5G is timely with the IoT becoming more popular, allowing for a smarter, more connected, holistic world.

3G End of Life with Introduction of 5G

The implementation of a new generation does not mean that previous generations automatically go end of life.  For example, after the release of 4G, 3G became an option for non-data related activity, like voice calls. However, almost 20 years after the release, Verizon in preparation for 5G, announced and implemented the end of life for 3G at the end of 2018.  Meaning 3G configured devices are no longer able to connect to a network.

What 3G End of Life Means for You

The biggest takeaway from the new 5G network is that 3G network’s are no longer viable.  This is a good time to take inventory of what devices and networks your organization is currently using.  It is possible that there are devices running on 3G that were a “set and forget” situation. Identify and update those devices.

There’s been anticipation for 5G and controlled rollout since the end of 2018, however with it now becoming the standard network, keep a pulse on what all devices operate off.  While 5G-enable phones have started hitting the market this year, there’s not necessarily a rush to replace 4G and LTE devices, but do consider them while assessing current devices and future plans.  If there’s a mix of devices with varying network capabilities, then evaluate what your organization’s needs are and if it would benefit from upgrading and standardizing devices.

If your organization needs help evaluating, then reach out to us at Brite for help!

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