Network, Phone, Smartphone

What does 3G mean?

Dear Elyse,

3G (and 4G) represent the third and fourth generations of mobile broadband Internet

Now that smartphones have become fairly ubiquitous, so too have the terms 3G (and 4G).

On the surface, the difference between 3G and 4G is simple. The “G” is short for generation, so 3G and 4G represent the third and fourth generations of mobile broadband Internet. As a rule, provided that you’re on the same carrier, a 4G connection will be faster than a 3G one. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a 4G network of one carrier will always be faster than the 3G network of another.

To be advertised as 3G, a network is required to meet a set of technical standards for speed and reliability, and must offer peak data transfer rates of at least 200 kilobits per second (Pretend you didn’t read that. It means nothing for you). The first networks that met this standard rolled out in the U.S. around 2003, and as smartphones began to gain more widespread use, demand for faster mobile broadband access saw a corresponding rise. In just a few short years, this push for faster data rates drove the standard forward, and today 3G networks can be anywhere from 200 kbps to dozens of times that fast. That’s enough for you.