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What's the Difference Between 3G, 4G, and 5G?

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Technology allows us to stay connected, provides unhindered access to information, makes our lives easier, and opens up incredible opportunities. Communication standards are rapidly moving to new levels of technical solutions, leading to new opportunities far beyond traditional communication.

There are several levels of communication. The standards are 3G, 4G, and 5G, where the letter “G” stands for Generation and forms their chronology. The difference between 3G, 4G, and 5G lies primarily in the data transfer rate.

It all started with the 1G standard, from which the technology has gradually improved. Today, 5G is introduced globally, with a complete transition planned to take place by 2030-2035. In the meantime, scientists have already developed technical documentation with the alleged capabilities and features of the 6G standard, but the novel concept has not yet been officially announced.

The relevance and importance of all the Gs lie in the fact that the development of communication standards is one of the defining milestones of global technological progress. The capabilities of all automated systems depend on the speed and reliability of data exchange. 

With that being said, let’s discover each existing standard, find out the main 3G/4G/5G differences, and look over the main cases of employing each.

What is 3G?

3G networks is the longest-living communication standard that has become synonymous with “mobile Internet” for many. It is the third generation of mobile telecommunications technology, which runs on signals being passed between phone towers. Your mobile phone sends and receives information from the nearest tower via a network managed by your mobile phone provider (Three, O2, Vodafone, or EE in the UK). That’s how you can make and receive calls and access mobile internet.

3G is an evolution of the previous 2G technology. Back in the day, 3G brought the unprecedented top speed of data transmission, access to multimedia services, and seamless roaming. Third-generation mobile communications are based on packet data transmission. 3G also offered a more efficient use of channel resources and an increase in the operating frequency range (400 MHz — 3 GHz).

This enabled providers to offer services to a larger number of subscribers with better quality. The main standing-out features and characteristics of the standard included:

  • speed of up to 2 Mbps;
  • increased bandwidth and data transfer rates;
  • an ability to send/receive large email messages;
  • large capacities and broadband capabilities.

However, as well-proven as it is, the glory days of 3G are in the recent past, and the standard is being slowly but steadily stamped out by the fourth and fifth generations.

What is 4G and the Difference Compared to 3G

4G has become the next-generation standard for mobile networks. These IP-based networks were developed in 2000 and have been introduced in many countries since 2010. The key difference between 3G and 4G is that the new technology is about three times faster than 3G and can support many more users. That is why all major UK telecom operators immediately adopted 4G.

What is the difference between 3G and 4G? Mostly, the speed. But we may also point out the following:

  • 3G network does not allow watching movies and videos in high quality, which is easy to do with 4G;
  • 3G has data rate limits, while the 4G network provides high-speed web connection to any user;
  • many online services simply fail to run correctly within 3G, which is not an issue for the fourth generation.

The transition from a 3G network to 4G heralded higher, more reliable, and optimized data transfers. 4G allowed people to stream movies and songs, make video calls, and play online computer games without experiencing lag. It also enabled users to use their mobile phones as an efficient personal hotspot for their laptops or other devices while out and about.

What is 5G and the Difference Compared to 4G

5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for mobile networks set to deliver even higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, and higher bandwidth than 4G. More than that, 5G is an improved 4G standard, implying the same combination of technologies and full “backward compatibility” with former 4G infrastructures. In the UK, 5G coverage has been available in major cities since 2019.

One of the main differences between 4G and 5G is the transmission speed: 5G is about 20 times faster than 4G. Then, there is also the ability to serve many more client devices. The new standard allows reaching up to a million customers in an area of ​​1 km². 

5G operates in a different radio frequency band than 4G, which allows for revolutionary improvements in network performance. While 4G operates at frequencies lower than 6 GHz, the 5G standard uses frequencies in the 30 – 300 GHz range.

To put it in perspective, the 5G standard is necessary for the large-scale functioning of the Internet of Things (IoT). It connects various devices to the web (from self-driving cars to "smart" electric kettles), introduces remote control of vehicles, and streamlines operations in medicine, industry, science, technology, and all other areas without exception.

What is the Difference Between 3G and 5G?

As opposed to the third generation, 5G is designed to provide much higher data rates and lower latency. Whereas 3G offers data speeds ranging from around 200 Kbps to 2 Mbps, 5G boasts 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps speeds and beyond. 

In terms of latency, 3G primarily operates in frequency bands below 3 GHz, which grants better coverage but limited data capacity. 5G uses a wider range of frequency bands, including both sub-6 GHz frequencies for broader coverage and mmWave (millimetre wave) frequencies above 24 GHz for ultra-high data rates. The use of mmWave allows for massive data transmission but requires more cell sites due to its shorter range.

The biggest difference between 3G and 5G, however, is that providers are gradually abandoning 3G, while 5G is the latest focus for adoption. 

3G vs 4G vs 5G Comparison Table

What are 3G, 4G, and 5G in terms of the most basic characteristics? Summarise with this brief table. 

TechnologyWCDMALTE, WiMAXMIMO, mm Waves
Switching typePacket switching, except for air interferencePacket switchingPacket switching
Internet serviceBroadbandUltra-broadbandWireless World Wide Web
Bandwidth25 MHz100 MHz30 GHz to 300 GHz
AdvantageHigh security, international roamingSpeed, high-speed handoffs, global mobilityExtremely high speeds, low latency
ApplicationsVideo conferencing, mobile TV, GPSHigh-speed apps, mobile TV, wearable devicesHigh-resolution video streaming, remote control of vehicles, robots, medical procedures

The comparison of LTE vs 4G technology may also show you how advancements in connectivity have revolutionized data transmission speeds for mobile devices.

What Difference Does 3G, 4G, and 5G Make for Your Business?

All in all, there are a bunch of underlying differences in terms of business and commercial use of each standard. So what does 3G, 4G, or 5G mean for your particular corporate ambitions? Let’s take a look.

Data requirements, speed, and capacity

  • 3G networks offer lower data speeds compared to newer standards. They are suitable for basic tasks like email, web browsing, and text messaging.
  • 4G networks provide significantly higher data speeds, enabling smoother video streaming, conferencing, and data-intensive applications. This allows businesses to efficiently access cloud services, collaborate in real-time, and engage in multimedia interactions.
  • 5G networks are designed to deliver ultra-fast speeds and higher data capacity. This is essential for supporting emerging technologies like AR, VR, IoT devices, and real-time analytics, which can greatly enhance business operations and customer experiences.


  • 3G networks have higher latency, meaning there's a delay between sending a request and receiving a response. This can impact real-time communication and applications.
  • 4G networks have lower latency compared to 3G, making them better suited for applications requiring near real-time responsiveness, such as online gaming and video conferencing.
  • 5G networks offer ultra-low latency, which is critical for applications like autonomous vehicles, remote surgery, and industrial automation. This can enable new business models and drive innovation in various industries.

Connectivity and coverage

  • 3G coverage is widespread in many areas but might not be as reliable in remote or densely populated locations.
  • 4G networks provide better coverage and connectivity in urban and suburban areas, enabling businesses to stay connected at all times.
  • While 5G coverage is still expanding, it's initially concentrated in urban centres and tech hubs. It offers high-speed, low-latency connectivity for businesses operating in such areas.

Ultimately, the choice between 3G, 4G, and 5G should align with your business goals and operational needs.

Which Network Will Be the Most Cost-Effective for Your Business?

Your business’s final choice of communication standard depends on several factors, including your specific requirements, budget, location, and future growth plans. Each generation of technology offers different capabilities, speeds, and coverage, so it's important to evaluate your needs and choose accordingly. Here's some advice on when to consider each standard.

When to choose 3G:

  • Basic communication: If your business requires simple voice and text communication, such as sending emails, making calls, and sending SMS messages, 3G could still be a viable option in areas with limited network infrastructure.
  • Low data requirements: If your data usage is minimal, such as checking emails and light web browsing, 3G might suffice.
  • Budget constraints: If you're on a tight budget and don't require high-speed data, 3G services are generally more affordable than newer standards.

Note: As most carriers in the UK turn off their 3G networks in 2023-2024, this solution will be temporary, requiring you in a year or so to upgrade anyway.

When to choose 4G

  • Moderate data usage: For businesses that rely on moderate to high data usage, 4G offers significantly faster speeds than 3G. It works best for video conferencing, streaming, and downloading/uploading files.
  • Reliable connectivity: 4G networks are more reliable and provide better coverage than 3G networks, making them a suitable choice for businesses operating in urban and suburban areas.
  • Future-proofing: While 4G is not the latest technology, it still provides good performance and is widely available. If you want a balance between performance and cost-effectiveness, 4G would be a suitable choice.

When to choose 5G

  • High data demand: If your business heavily relies on data-intensive tasks, such as real-time analytics, 4K video streaming, IoT devices, and large file transfers, 5G's ultra-fast speeds and low latency are a major advantage.
  • Emerging technologies: If you plan to adopt emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), or edge computing, 5G's low latency and high bandwidth are crucial for seamless experiences.
  • Urban areas and tech hubs: 5G deployment is initially concentrated in urban areas and tech hubs. 5G could provide a competitive edge if your business operates in such locations.
  • Long-term investment: While 5G may require a higher initial investment due to the need for new devices and infrastructure, it offers future-proofing as it becomes more widely available and integrated into various sectors.

You can use the above as your elaborate reference sheet for picking exactly what you need and avoid overpaying or falling into the trap of adopting the tech you are unable to manage.

UCtel Can Help Improve Your Mobile Connection on Any Type of Network

CEL-FI is an Ofcom-compliant mobile phone signal booster that extends coverage of mobile networks across your building. It works in three steps: obtaining a signal via a donor antenna wherever it is the strongest, amplifying that signal with a network unit, and distributing this signal throughout the building using internal antenna units.

CEL-FI is easy-to-install, versatile, and authorized by 200 carriers globally. It’s suitable for all kinds of buildings — hospitals, warehouses, hotels, offices, retail units, and so on. Best of all, it’s fully compatible with 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, giving staff and visitors the best possible experience.

Although there is a massive difference between standards and carriers, no matter what 3G, 4G, or 5G mobile network operator you are dealing with, UCtel always has a solution for you.

So, What is the Key Difference Between 3G, 4G, and 5G?

Ultimately, it all depends on the specific scope of requirements, use cases, and ambitions. One’s underlying resources also shape the need for a particular standard. 

The above comparison of 3G, 4G, and 5G allows you to highlight each technology’s characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. However, settling with the best-fitting generation of network to implement for your business should not be based on a certain G’s speed and power alone. The main takeaway of this overview is the importance of making a smart choice based on all the characteristics explained. 

For instance, while 3G is the cheapest to maintain, it may spawn extra operational costs due to high latency. And 5G, while more expensive to adopt, may save you tons of expenses through scaling and stable performance.

Need help making the final choice? Do you constantly struggle with a bad mobile phone signal in your company building? The friendly team at UCtel will guide and assist you. We offer innovative solutions for each client, transform the digital infrastructure of businesses, and move global enterprises into the digital age.

UCtel connects people, networks, clouds, and apps with next-generation technologies. Contact us by emailing us at or call us on 0333-344-4417.

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What is the difference between 4G and 3G?

4G is about three times faster than 3G, and the new technology can support many more users. The main 3G VS 4G difference is the speed: the fourth generation network allows you to watch movies and videos in high quality, provides the user with high-speed Internet and ensures the correct operation of all Internet services. 4G technology offers quicker, more reliable, and optimised data transmission.

How much better is 5G than 4G?

The 5G standard is more advanced, extended, and improved than its predecessors. With it, communication becomes more reliable and faster. The main 4G VS 5G difference is that the next level of communication delivers exceptionally high multi-Gbps peak data speeds (5G is about 20 times faster than 4G), ultra-low latency, more reliability and higher bandwidth than 4G (30—300 GHz compared to 100 MHz).

How much better is the performance of 5G than 3G?

3G was introduced in 2001, and 5G appeared in 2018. 3G is based on CDMA and 5G – on OFDM, BDMA. 3G uses WCDMA technology, while 5G uses MIMO and mm Waves. The bandwidth of the 3G standard is 25 MHz, and the bandwidth of 5G is 30—300 GHz. The key benefits of 3G technology are high security and international roaming, while the main advantages of 5G are incredibly high speeds and low latency.

Contact the team to discover how UCtel can improve your digital connectivity and communications.

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