The mobile phone industry involves a lot of abbreviations and specific lingo, which can be difficult for the average consumer to sift through. One of the most basic terms to wrap your head around is the “G” in 2G, 3G, or 4G networks. The “G” simply stands for generation, with 2G networks being an earlier generation of network. The higher the number is before the “G,” the more powerful, speedy, and efficient the wireless network. The first generation of mobile networks was 1G, which was really only suitable for text messaging and placing phone calls. Since then, networks have grown in leaps and bounds.
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The most basic smartphones as we know them today are able to operate on a 2G network, also known as GSM or Global System for Mobile. A 2G network transmits signals digitally, improving phone call quality and allowing users to transmit both text and picture messages. 2G network users can also access the internet, although the connection is relatively slow.
The third generation of mobile networks has become increasingly widespread, first introduced in the early 2000’s and enabling video calling and faster internet speeds. 3G networks allow you to watch streaming online videos, play games, and transmit higher volumes of data. There have been a number of upgrades to the 3G network options, including the HSPA or High-Speed Packet Access family. Phones marked 3G, H, or H+ are all on a 3G network.
For those who want even more, the 4th generation of mobile networks, also known as Long Term Evolution or LTE provide speeds ranging from 100MBPs to 1GBPs. This allows you to take part in conference calls, view videos or listen to music without waiting, and download large quantities of data at high speeds. To allow these high speeds, the network must be LTE enabled and your phone must have the proper chip.
Compatibility between Networks
There are many phones that are able to work on more than one of these networks, which is useful if you’re travelling from one region to another. However, networks run on different frequencies. Although consumers understandably want access to the higher generation networks, at the moment 2G or GSM is still the most widespread. GSM only phones aren’t able to communicate with 3G WCDMA only networks. To help enable compatibility between the different networks, phone manufacturers include several frequency bands for both 2G and 3G networks. This allows the devices to be used on a number of different networks and locations. A phone with multiple frequency bands could run on a 2G network, as well as WCDMA with Nokia Networks in a 3G location, for example.
Why is all of this important? As you’re comparing mobile phone options, be sure to look at its specifications to see what frequencies it supports. The most useful options are those that are compatible with 2G and 3G networks, at the very least. This will help you get the most coverage from your phone when you travel, while accessing the most efficient networks.