If you’re shopping around for a mobile data plan, you’ve probably heard of 3G and 4G. These two mobile technologies are both in wide use. They work in tandem to create a seamless experience for voice calls and data. Technology moves fast – only a few years ago, 3G was the big selling point of the latest smartphones. Some of them – most famously the iPhone 3G – named themselves after the wireless technology they used. But what are 3G and 4G, and why would you use one over the other? Read on to find out!
The G makes a real difference
The “G” stands for “generation” – it’s quite literally a count of the evolution of the digital wireless technology used to carry voice and data on your smartphone and tablet. The first time real advances were made in the speed of mobile data, it was marketed under the un-sexy name “GPRS”. In fact, it was 2.5G (if you’ve seen your smartphone say connected via “EDGE”, that’s 2.5G).
The whole “G” signifies major advances in how mobile voice and data work. Each successive “G” has brought increases in data speed and improvements for voice calls. The “1G” network was the original analogue network, though it wasn’t known by the name at the time. It was unable to carry data and was easily eavesdropped on. 1G spearheaded the mobile phone revolution in Australia and elsewhere before the 2G digital system arrived; and then fast (at the time) mobile data via GPRS technology brought us to 2.5G.
In 1998, advances in speed and quality arrived with 3G – a technology so good it’s still in use. Even if you browse the web at high speed on your 4G smartphone, in most cases your phone calls are back on the reliable 3G network. It’s only a recent development that smartphones can use the newer 4G networks for voice calls. Moreover, only the latest phones take advantage of that – Apple iPhone 6 and 7, or the Samsung Galaxy range, for example. You’ll know if you and your caller are on the 4G network. That’s because calls sound more like a high-quality Skype chat than a phone call since you’re using the fast data capabilities of 4G to send high-quality audio streams in each direction.
Not all 4G plans are equal
When you opt to go with what looks to be a great value plan, it’s worth checking the fine print. If you’re expecting to connect to a 4G network from one of the big three telcos, you may not get access to all of it. Both 3G and 4G use multiple frequencies to deliver data. With 4G the real speed boosts come with tablets and phones that can connect to multiple frequencies at the same time. Consequently, they can use the extra bandwidth to upload and download data faster.
3G, on the other hand, uses its different frequencies to increase capacity and coverage. With less people now using 3G networks, if your plan only allows access to one of the 4G frequency bands you may find that switching your device to 3G improves both coverage and speed.
If your plan is with one of the big telcos, of course, you’ll have access to the whole network. You usually won’t run into any issues. Unless, of course, you’re in the middle of a 100,000-strong crowd at the MCG on Grand Final day! Depending on the provider, 4G coverage will become scarcer the further you get from major cities and towns, and your device will seamlessly roll back to the trusty 3G network.
3G mobile tech is incredibly good at dealing with long distances and the far lower data demands of remote areas. You’ll still get good usable data coverage, just not at the blazingly fast speeds that 4G can deliver. Australia’s extremely lucky in that regard. Despite the distances and empty spaces, we’ve got mobile coverage across most of the country that would be the envy of many around the world.
Spring 2017 Mobile Deals and Discounts
As far as data is concerned, OVO Mobile is currently offering Australia’s largest mobile data plan. It packs a whooping 100GB for only $69.95. The plan is portable and can be activated in hours of receiving the SIM. Moreover, starting October 2017, Yomojo launched two data-packed 3G-only plans. You get 30GB for $59.90/month and 90GB for $89.90/month.
What to look for in a data plan
Networks handle your connection to 4G or 3G seamlessly and automatically. Hence, your key decision as a user is which provider to go with. Do you spend the extra dollars with a big provider and get full access to their network with coverage and speed almost guaranteed no matter where you are? Or, on the other hand, do you go for a huge data cap at low cost because you’re close to a CBD where 4G coverage is abundant?
You’ve got more options than ever before. More and more low-cost, high-value providers deliver gigantic data caps for not very much money at all. If raw speed is important, the “big three” providers are very much the way to go. If you just want to surf the web and check Facebook, you can choose from a variety of plans for your phone and tablet and save serious money.
And remember, if you have coverage issues you can usually switch off 4G in your device settings. It’s funny how fast and responsive 3G becomes when most people aren’t using it!