3G and 4G: Which is Best for Business?

If you’ve ever owned a tablet or smartphone then you’ve definitely heard the terms “3G,” “4G” and “LTE” thrown around a lot, but what does it all mean? Cellular providers like Verizon and AT&T often claim to have the largest or fastest 4G networks, and while that all sounds very impressive, it can also be somewhat misleading.

Whether you’re a small business owner or the CEO of a large corporation, if your business utilizes mobile data services, it’s important to understand 3G, 4G, and LTE networks. Why? Well, the data network(s) supported by the devices that your company owns or leases may significantly impact the performance of your devices and, consequently, the productivity of your workers.

There are a lot of great resources out there for understanding these networks, but for those who are not so tech-savvy, the techie jargon surrounding these complex technologies can be a bit confusing, making it difficult to select the best network and devices for your company.

So, where do we begin?

For starters, the “G” in 3G and 4G stands for the generation of mobile technology. The third generation of mobile data technology, 3G, is the oldest generation of mobile data technology, while the 4G and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technologies are newer. Let’s get a better idea of how these technologies work, starting with 3G.

3G Network

The 3G mobile data technologies were the first to provide a decent, high-speed user experience on a smartphone. Some older 2G smartphones were mobile data enabled, but these technologies were extremely slow, and users often had to wait several minutes to load simple web pages.

All major carriers have 3G networks that supply coverage across most of the country. However, there are two competing 3G technologies, Global System for Mobiles (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). AT&T and T-Mobile use the GSM technology, while Verizon and T-Mobile use CDMA technology. This is the reason that you cannot, for example, use a Verizon phone on an AT&T network, because these technologies are not compatible. However, this is not the case with carrier agnostic devices.

While GSM and CDMA are two completely different technologies, they’re both just two different ways of accomplishing the same thing. There are both good and bad GSM and CDMA networks--the quality really depends on how the carrier has built their own network, so don’t stress yourself out trying to figure out which one is better.

4G Networks and LTE

4G is the successor to the 3G technology, and it is much, much faster in theory. However, before we start comparing 3G and 4G network speeds, it’s important to understand that, just as there are different types of 3G technology, there are also different types of 4G technology.

4G technology is a bit more confusing than 3G technology. While there are two types of 3G technology, they are both relatively the same in terms of quality. However, there is a clear difference between the 4G HSPA and 4G LTE technologies.

If a cellular provider is describing a 4G network without mentioning LTE, they are probably talking about a High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) network, which is essentially a better version of the 3G GSM technology. While HSPA networks are nowhere near as fast as LTE networks, they are still faster than 3G networks. Be careful when looking at the network coverage maps on providers’ websites. Some companies may claim to have nationwide 4G coverage, but they may be talking about HSPA, not LTE.

In theory, LTE networks can be up to ten times faster than 3G networks. In practice, however, this is not always the case. This is because a number of factors, including network load and signal strength, affect the speed of a network. Regardless of whether or not they reach their theoretical speed, LTE networks are still much faster than 3G networks. Actions that require a lot of data, like streaming movies, work well on LTE networks because of their speed.

Why do I care about all this?

Why does any of this matter? LTE networks are clearly the best, so why not just go with that?

While it may seem logical to go with the fastest network for your business, before making a decision, you should ask yourself:

  1. What do my employees need in order to conduct work?
  2. How much am I willing to spend on mobile devices?

If your employees are constantly traveling, or if they rely on a tablet with mobile data to conduct most of their work, then LTE is probably the way to go. However, LTE-enabled devices can be a bit pricey, and most employees at most companies only really need mobile data in order to check their emails while out of the office, or load simple webpages.

If this is the case for your business, a 3G network is perfectly suitable for you. Why spend all that extra money to obtain access to an LTE network that you don’t really need? Older 3G-enabled devices are much more affordable, and perfectly satisfactory for business purposes.

That wasn’t all that confusing!

Hopefully we helped to clear everything up for you in today’s post. In a sea of misinformation and technical lingo, it can be a bit difficult to understand the differences between 3G and 4G networks, and how they relate to your company’s mobile data usage. We hope that after reading this post you now feel armed with knowledge and ready to make a decision.

Looking for another option for mobile data? DataXoom offers mobile data service across multiple networks, with rates and plans that are designed specifically for businesses. We have access to the nation’s top 3G and 4G networks on our multi-carrier platform. Shoot us an email or give us a phone call! We’d love to talk to you about who we are and what we do.