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What is the Difference Between 3G and 4G?

Woman using a 4G phone.
A tablet using 4G mobile technology.
Newer models of Apple's iPhone are 4G capable.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 07 September 2014
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The major differences between 3G and 4G technology used in wireless telephones and similar devices basically revolve around the amount of data that can be reliably sent through the networks these devices are a part of and how that data is sent. Ultimately, these differences will be established as 4G technologies continue to be developed and utilized. As of late 2010, there is still a great deal of debate and competition regarding the way in which 4G technology will be deployed.

3G and 4G are both telecommunications technologies used in wireless phone services and other devices, and these designations indicate advances made in these technologies. The “G” in 3G and 4G basically stand for “generation” and indicate a major advancement in wireless technology that leads to a new generation in such technology. 1G is typically seen as early cellular technology that used analog signals, large batteries, and had numerous limitations to how phones could transmit and receive signals. 2G technologies marked the upgrade to digital signals that could transmit greater amounts of data and no longer relied on analog signals, which also introduced short message services (SMS) or texting.

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The advances in 3G technology greatly improved the amount of data that could be transmitted through the networks used by wireless phones, allowing people to send and receive pictures and video along with text messages using their phones. As technology increases with 4G, the bandwidth that phones can utilize will improve greatly, and far more data will be able to be sent and received using phones on these networks. The improvements between 3G and 4G technology are still being implemented and developed in late 2010 and major 4G networks are likely to continue to be developed throughout 2011.

There are a number of different technologies competing for use in making the change between 3G and 4G standards. The two major systems likely to be used are Long Term Evolution (LTE) Advanced technology and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, or "WiMAX." Both technologies are competing between different wireless service providers for use in the transition between 3G and 4G standards.

Most systems are likely to continue to use both 3G and 4G services initially, using 4G technology to handle data transmissions and 3G technology for voice transmissions. As 4G standards are implemented, however, increases should be seen in the amount of data that can be sent and the speed at which it is transmitted. Users should also see new features implemented like greater areas of coverage and less loss of signal when service is transferred between different carriers and wireless signal sources.

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