Understanding Different Mobile Data Networks

Now a days every company claims to have the fastest 4G Network, but do we actually know what kind of service are we getting? What should we expect at the most from the network and the real benefits from the mobile carrier.

Well… in this article we´ll explain the different types of networks, what company uses them, and what should you expect from them.

Probably you´ve heard or read 2G, 3G, 4G, LTE, EDGE, GPRS, 1x, EVDO etc-, but maybe you don’t know what exactly it is. We´ll begin with the 2 technologies available in the market. If you live in the US you may be on a GSM or on a CDMA network, if you are in Europe, LATAM or Asia the most probable thing is that you´ve never heard of CDMA networks; the easiest way to know if you have a GSM phone is simple: you have a SIM Card.

As the CDMA Standard has been phased out during the last few years in favour of the more common GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network, we´ll only discuss about it in this article.

Second Generation (2G):
2.5G – GPRS
The first type of networks that supported Data Services was GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) with this type of network you are able to achieve speeds up to 114 kbps; and yes mobile carriers still offer this type of services for basic telephone system, even

iOS device Running on Vodafone's Netherlands  2G GPRS network.

iOS device Running on Vodafone’s 2G GPRS network in The Netherlands.

though it might be difficult to be in an area with only GPRS Service available. Usually you might see on your phone a “G”, “o”, “GPRS” when you are on a 2.5G network

2.75G – EDGE
Nope, if you read on your smartphone an “E” it doesn’t mean you are on “Ethernet” (I´ve heard so maaaaany people saying this!!! and it really drive me nuts), it means you are over an EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) network. With an EDGE network you can get up to 236 kbps. It might be displayed on your phone as “E”, “EDGE”, “2G”.

Third Generation (3G)
With 3G things start to get a little bit complicated, during its lifetime there were too many revisions to the standard, many of which were never deployed by all carriers, but here we´ll show you the most commonly used.

3.0G – UMTS
This was the first type of 3G network that was deployed back in the 2000´s. With UMTS you could achieve speeds up to 7.2 MBPS, the truth is that all those numbers are just theoretical speeds, in real life the maximum you could achieve was about 2.5 MBPS. Most carriers don’t offer this service anymore for data and have switched for the superior 3.5G and 3.75G Standards. On your smartphone it might be shown as “3G”.

3.5G – HSPA
This is the type of network you are probably accessing while on 3G, the HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) network allows an speed of up to 14 Mbps, its reduced latency provides up to five times more system capacity in the downlink and up to twice as much system capacity in the uplink compared with the original protocol. You might read it as “H”, “3G”, “3.5G” on your smartphone.

Android device showing H+ in status bar.

Android device showing H+ in status bar.

3.75G – HSPA+
Here is where things become really confusing for costumers; many carriers around the world had marketed the HSPA+ protocol as 4G (At&t in the US, Iusacell in Mexico, Bell in Canada), but the truth is that it’s still a 3G Network, so don’t be fooled by those companies, fortunately, they have already begun to deploy real 4G networks (more of this ahead). With HSPA+ you can achieve a theoretical speed of 168 Mbps (22 Mbps on real life). Smartphones display it as “H+”, “3G” or the totally fake “4G” on At&t iPhones.

Fourth Generation (4G):
Now that you know that HSPA+ is not a real 4G now we can talk about the real 4G LTE networks.

4G LTE:
As today every US carrier offers real 4G LTE Networks, with this kind of networks you can achieve real speeds up to 40mbps. You might see an icon in your phone displaying: “4G”, “LTE”, “4G LTE”.

iOS Device running in an LTE network from Verizon in the US.

iOS Device running in an LTE network from Verizon in the US.

 

LTE-A:

This is what we should expect to see in the following years. LTE Advanced networks can achieve a whopping speed of 450mbps on a CAT 6 Network. Currently you can find those types of networks in Europe, carriers such as Deutsche Telekom, Swisscom, Vodafone and Telefonica have begun to deploy them, also the Japanese NTT Docomo has a Live LTE-A network. Earlier this year At&t began to deploy LTE-A networks in Chicago, New York City and San Francisco achieving speeds of 114 mbps.

Depending of what “Category” is rated your smartphone is the maximum speed you can achieve. Here’s a comprehensive list of them:

cats

In conclusion throughout this decade mobile data networks have been constantly evolving in an extremely fast way, but whats next?: We should expect to see a quick deployment of this LTE-A in different parts of the world, meanwhile AT&T is beginning to deploy LTE-A networks in selected cities, T-Mobile In the US is implementing their 700MHZ LTE network which allows to “penetrate” better buildings so expect to have better signal inside your office or your home, meanwhile in Europe many carries are expanding their LTE-A network from few “Spots” to cover all main cities.

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