2G - 3G - 4G Cell Phones? What's it all mean?

My wife REALLY wants to get the iPhone when our contract is up which means I have to get AT&T service. During this dustup between AT&T and Verizon, AT&T essentially admitted that their 3G network is not as extensive as Verizon but said that they have an enormous 2G network.

I have no idea what this means. Do I need a 3G network? Is it more with having to watch video and other high bandwith types of things? I don’t need any of that stuff so it wouldn’t bother me. What else wouldn’t I be able to get if my 3G went down to 2G?

I used to work in the biz, but never paid a lot of attention to the hardware side of things. My understanding, though, was that at some time it was decided to try and move cellphones to a single standard for data communication. A plan was set up whereby all the various and sundry protocols would be morphed together until there was only one left. This would take place in various stages which are called 1G, 2G, etc.

Of course, it also means that any generation is higher tech than the previous since it’s a migration and technology improves as it moves along. It might be that even when things unify that they will continue to call things #G until someone ruins it and goes rogue and skips from 7G to OMG. I don’t recall what generation it is that is meant to be the end of it all, officially.

I can’t imagine how useful a iPhone would be without a 3G network. Most of their apps and “cool” features depend on a reasonably fast data speed connection, and that means 2G is basically out from the get-go. As far as what 3G actually encompasses, Wikipedia has more than you’ll ever want or need to know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3G

2G phones can still browse the internet and whatnot, but it’ll be like going from broadband to dialup (or maybe even worse).

3g is just a faster data network. As long as you have 2g (AKA edge) coverage you will have data transfer (and cell service), just at a slower rate. On the 3g network you can talk and transfer data at the same time with AT&T, but not while on the 2g network. I would check 3g coverage in your area/ areas you plan to use the phone and decide how important the faster network is to you before I bought an iPhone.

Note - I have an iPhone and love it. There is decent 3g coverage in my area. When I switch to edge it is noticeably slower but not a huge deal most of the time.

Even within 3G there are speed differences. Right now T Mobile 3G is around 1.2 Mb per second max. By Christmas they are going to 7.2 Mb per second max for their entire network. They are moving to HSPA 7.2.

This article is a little better in showing the progression of standards from first-generation cellular (“1G”, which used analogue voice channels) to 2G (digital voice channels) to 3G (digital and faster data transmission).

Pre-cellular radiophone systems were retroactively dubbed “0G” or “zeroth-generation” systems. These were the systems that did not use automatic signalling and couldn’t roam from tower to tower. Some required an operator to place calls.

Do you mean the portion of the network that is currently 3G, or the entire network? I live in SC. and use TMobile. It’s Edge(2G) here except for Atlanta and recently Greenville/Spartanburg. I really want a Google Phone but not until 3G is expanded. Right now I can connect to 3G at work, but not here at home (outside city).

Actually, AT&T claims the Verizon comparison is unfair in that it is somewhat “apples to oranges” - Verizon classifies a wider spectrum as “3G” that includes slower speeds. This is how AT&T also claims to be the “fastest 3G network” - their 3G network is more narrowly defined than Verizon, and is faster by definition (“3G” being a loose “third generation” term and not a specific bandwidth representation). Their overall coverage, as their new ads state, is 97% of the country (and some of that includes access at speeds Verizon might classify as “3G” but AT&T doesn’t) - which isn’t to say that the iPhone traffic hasn’t severely taxed their capacity, and they have been working to increase it. But all of that is probably irrelevant for you -

  • Because you probably won’t notice - you’re in a good coverage area, and if you’re not using bandwidth-intensive applications, you probably won’t have a problem. Best thing to do would be to check with friends and neighbors in your area who use AT&T (not just the iPhone) to see if they get many dropped calls. If not, you’ll be OK.

To clarify T Mobile is upgrading the 3G part of their network, not all of it.

Doesn’t Verizon consider its EVDO network to be 3G? The one that has speeds ranging to 100kbps?

If possible you might want to try using someone else’s phone for a while. In spite of AT&T’s claims about their network speeds I’ve always found the throughput aggravatingly limited. On 3G, it’s worth using for browsing - if I’m in a waiting room and need to keep busy or need to look something up for information, totally worth it. But it’s extremely slow, even worse than I remember dial up to be. I believe it’s technically faster but I find myself waiting longer for sites to load than I remember when I used dial up. And this is just browsing, even predominently on sites that have mostly text and are optimized for mobile viewing. I never bother streaming video on my iPhone. When I drive about an hour away to visit family I wind up on their EDGE network and it’s so slow it’s unusable for anything but the essential.

Other people’s experience evidently varies. I just did a iphone speed test out of curiosity and found my downlink speed is 619 Kbps vs 3.34 Mbps on my slow cable modem at home.

619 Kbps is still way faster than a dial up modem (the “56k” in 56k modem means 56 Kbps here, and even that wasn’t achieveable in most situations). Web pages load slower because they have way more data to transfer than they did before - both because there’s more content and because web designers make little effort to reduce bandwidth requirement because it’s assumed everyone has a good internet connection anyway.

This site shouldn’t be bandwidth intensive though, and yet I find it takes longer to load than I recall sites loading on dial up. Lots of news sites have mobile optimized sites that certainly load faster than dial up but still are pretty slow considering it’s text and a picture or two and is being advertised at ‘broadband’. I realize it’s much faster than dial up and technically broadband but I don’t find it very fast.

Also, FWIW, 619Kbps was my actual downlink speed. You would never measure an actual downlink speed as high as 56Kbps on a 56k modem so the difference is even larger.

It’s entirely possible I’ve forgotten what dial up is like but in my opinion if you’re used to most pages loading almost instantly and have an idea that ‘broadband’ should mean something like that for majority text pages with a few small graphics, you’ll probably be disappointed with 3G speeds.

Well… the other issue is that a mobile device generally has less computing power than even old computers, so it may take longer to actually render the web page than you’re accustomed to.