5G. 4G. 3G. What’s the Difference and Why Should I Care?
Post Date Apr 25, 2023

5G. 4G. 3G. What’s the Difference and Why Should I Care?

It’s everywhere: the announcements of the 3G shutdown, talk of 4G, and the new, improved – will someone please explain to me what it is! – 5G. Ads on television and radio. Ads in magazines. On enormous billboards.

Ads everywhere and none of them explaining:

What 5G is; why poor 3G has to be shut down; and where 4G fits in. It’s enough to make you want to crawl under a rock and not come out until someone sounds the "all clear."

Well, consider the “all clear!” sounded. Right here, right now, we’re going to take the mystery out of all this G business. 3G 4G and 5G we're going to explain it all. And believe it or not, it’s simple.

What's the differences between 5g, 4g, and 3g, and why should I care?

For starters, we’re going to break down 3g 4G and 5G. We’ll circle back to poor, beleaguered, 3G later. Because by then its situation will be crystal clear.

Let’s address the G business in 3G 4G and 5G first

Young woman sitting on a mountain taking a photo of the lake below her.

G stands for generation of cellular communication and it goes like this: 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G = first generation, second generation, third generation, fourth generation, and fifth generation. Each new generation of mobile technology is an improvement in communication speed and other factors over the last. We've now entered the fifth generation of mobile network technology and, having said that it should come as no surprise that….

5G, or the fifth generation, is faster than 4G

Young couple on vacation smiling and looking at a cell phone.

Of course, it is, each new generation is an improvement over previous generations. But 5G has a lot more going for it than just its higher speeds including upload speeds.

Among other pluses, 5G cellular networks also offer better bandwidth than 4G

Bandwidth is the amount of data, say, photos of your friends or family, that can be transmitted over a network connection. And coupled with low latency and higher data rates which allow you to download content more quickly, 5G trumps 4G every time.

Poor 4G. Can’t you just feel it going the way of the Dodo like sweet 3G?

Even though 4G and 5G can transmit those sweet smiling faces you adore in milliseconds, 5G will be the first generation being able to do so in 1 millisecond. Will the average person be able to tell the difference in speed? (Not that we think you're an average person!) Maybe.

5G mobile networks also offer more for mobile devices

Happy young woman in a black cap taking a selfie.

Stronger connectivity, better average speeds, lower latency, and more reliability. That means your calls go through no matter where you’re calling from, or where you’re calling to. And that’s not all.

5G is also capable of handling hundreds of thousands of people being on their cell phones at the exact same time with far fewer disruptions in service. In geek speak, this is known as network density, and 5G’s is huge in comparison to 4G. To put it in layman’s terms – with 4G (fourth generation) if you’re at a pro sports game and try to send photos or texts, your smartphone probably runs more slowly than usual due to the number of other people doing the same thing at the same time in the same place with their smartphones.

With 5G (fifth generation) of wireless technology you can forget those slow speeds, dropped calls and lousy connections. You’ll never again be able to tell your boss or your annoying neighbor, “You’re breaking up! I’ll call you as soon as I get reception!”

Hmm. Maybe we need to rethink this 5G business.

Young couple on a sidewalk pointing at an attraction.

5G though is a huge deal for wireless network companies and, more importantly, people who count on their smartphones to stay connected with their kids and grandkids, and who want to be able to call for help when their car breaks down in the middle of the night, on a dark road, in some little town they find themselves lost in. Sorry. One of us has been watching far too much Netflix. But you get my point. The first time you experience 5G, you'll see a huge difference between it and 4G. 5G is ten times faster and this means there's a significant increase in accessibility and internet access - no matter where you are.

5G is the pinnacle, (sort of like those self driving cars that are coming down the pike). Which is why 3G has to go bye-bye to make room for this incredible new technology.

But more about 3G… in a minute.

Right now, let’s delve deeper into the differences between 5G and 4G. You know you want to geek out and get into...

The nitty gritty

Young woman with dark curly hair and glasses sitting on a sofa sending a text.

So 5G is stronger, significantly faster, so reliable it leaps tall buildings in a single bound (actually it does better than that: it can blow right through walls and buildings) and is the Superman of mobile devices and communication.

But how does it actually work?

Image of a city at night with stars indicating cellular communication.

All cellular communication works by sending information over the air into radio waves. 5G does as well, but at much higher, much cleaner frequencies. This means those photos of your kids, new car, new haircut, new house, are transmitted faster over your mobile network than ever before.

5G’s with the band. Actually, 3 bands

Remember how we mentioned that bandwidth is the amount of data, say, photos of your friends, that can be transmitted over a mobile network connection? 5G actually has three bands – a high band, a low band, and a mid-band.

The different bands operate at different speeds

Two young women taking a selfie with their pink cotton candy.

That’s another one of the reasons it’s better than 4G (fourth generation). As you can probably guess, the different bands operate at different speeds. The high speed band operates fastest, the low band operates slowest (relatively speaking; it’s still incredibly fast), and the mid-band operates at a speed between those two. Now here’s what’s cool about that.

At some point, each band could be dedicated to a different user group. One for consumers, one for businesses, and the third for…. a variety of industries, or security measures, or… who knows? There are so many options and opportunities for 5G to improve our lives. (Of course, even though the world of wireless communication is always evolving, don't plan on seeing 6G any time soon.)

Plus 5G can be sliced and diced for further flexibility

Along with the three different bands, 5G networks can be used as separate mobile networks. This is called mobile network slicing. (Now we’re really geeking out!) The result of this capability is that each of those separate mobile networks can be used for a different purpose and a different form of mobile communication. 4G could never provide this kind of flexibility and the opportunities for new mobile communication improvements and advancements that come with it as it just didn't possess the broadband capabilities.

So, 5G will replace 4G, right?

At some point, yes. But not in the near future. As we mentioned, 4G is more available, and 5G is pretty much still in the starting block. For the time being, both mobile networks will be utilized which is fine as most phones are 4G and 5G compatible.

How can I be sure my phone is 4G or 5G compatible?

You can check the box or manual, which should be accurate, but for safety’s sake, we suggest you go online and ask Google. I did and was promptly informed that my iPhone 11 Pro Max is, sadly, not 5G compatible.

So I guess I need a 5G phone to get 5G, right? 

Image of the United States at night indicating nationwide cell coverage.

Exactly. You also need to be in an area where 5G is available. If you’re with H2O Wireless, you’re in luck as we operate on America’s most reliable 5G network. Visit our coverage map and type in your zip code, hit enter, and in seconds you can see if you live in a 5G area.

As we’ve already mentioned, the 5G network provides the best cell coverage at significantly greater speed and is more flexible, reliable, and secure than any network before it. This means not having to worry about whether or not you’ll miss your favorite podcast – you won’t, or connect with your parents before they take off to Europe – you will.

Now what if, like me, you need a 5G phone? H2O Wireless has you covered there, too. The iPhone SE 3rd Gen, iPhone 12 mini, to name just a few, and many new Android devices, like the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G, all support 5G and are available right here.

5G coverage. 5G phones. And plans that start at just $20 a month. That’s right. With H2O Wireless’ Unlimited Plans, you can stay connected to your kids, friends, work, your whole world, for as little as $20 month – or $18 a month if you enroll in auto pay. That’s a great price for a plan that gives you unlimited talk, text, and 2GB of data. Plus, with H2O Wireless, you can also choose bring your phone and keep your phone number. Just make sure your network’s not about to be phased out.

But… back to 5G. Or more accurately, the fate of 3G. Because I promised I’d cover that and I keep my promises.

So what happened to poor old 3G?

In general, 3G networks simply became outdated. And specifically, they became too slow. Really slow. As that happened, they began draining cell phone batteries faster and faster. The 3G network simply couldn’t keep up with the hundreds of thousands of cell phone users sending data over it. It wasn’t powerful enough, although it was a lot faster than 2G (as in second generation mobile communication because geeking out about this stuff is what it’s all about). Each generation of this technology gets bigger, better, faster, and more reliable. 3G, like 2G before it, got put out to pasture to make room first for 4G networks and now 5G networks.

Hold on, let me clarify that: 3G is getting put out to pasture. And it should be there by end the end of this year.

Wait. I thought 3G was already shutdown.

Not yet. Some 3G networks were shut down early this year, some are shutting down now, over the summer, and others will shut down by the end of 2022. This means that, if you haven’t done so already, you need to check with your wireless provider to see if the 3G shutdown will impact you and when. If it turns out that you will be impacted, it’s time to take action. Once the 3G shutdown is complete, you’ll be unable to call for emergency assistance or call and text those children you love so much. I don’t know about you, but the latter part of that sentence is the one that worries me most!

We’re sure you love your 3G phone, but it’s time to say “See ya!” and stroll confidently into the future. And we’ve got some terrific phone plans and phones that can help you do just that.

Hold on a sec. Are they going to get rid of 4G too?

The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. 4G has at least ten to fifteen good years ahead of it. All you need to be attuned to right now is the 3G shutdown and the fact that if your current phone is 3G and your wireless company is on a 3G network, you need to get that situation “sorted,” as the Brits like to say.

Let H2O Wireless help you do just that. Check out our phone plans and phones now!