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

“The nation’s fastest 3G network.”

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

“The nation’s first 5G 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 introduced at the end of the year, 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.


The end of 2018 brings the newest network generation.  Reports state that the 5G network will provide the fastest speed, decrease transfer rates, increase bandwidth and provide 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.  It’s anticipated that 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, has announced the end of life for 3G at the end of 2018.  This means that 3G configured devices will no longer be able to connect to a network.

What 3G End of Life Means for You

The biggest takeaway is that 3G network is going end of life.  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.  Although some carriers are beginning to implement their 5G network at the end of 2018, it will take a few years for the technology to be standard.  Even tech giant, Apple doesn’t plan on releasing 5G-enabled iPhones until 2020.  It is not necessary to rush and replace 4G and LTE devices but do consider them while assessing current devices and future plans.  If there is 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!