4G LTE, 5G, Data Plans, Gigabit Internet: What they mean.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve talked about Gigabit Internet speed or Gbps that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers.  If you have a cell phone, and who doesn’t, you’re familiar with 1G, 3G and various other sized cellular data plans, and then there’s the  3G, 4G-LTE, 4G, and now 5G networks and phones. That’s a lot of ‘G’s; what does it all mean?

The Different Meanings of “G” in your Internet Plan

Wireline ISP Speed Plans refer to the amount of data that can simultaneously travel over the Internet to and from your home or business in terms of megabits per second, up to one gigabit per second.

Cell Phone Data Plans refer to the amount of data (1 Gigabytes, 5 Gigabytes, etc.) you can transfer over a cell phone carrier’s network in terms of total gigabytes for the month. You generally pay a flat monthly rate and get charged extra if you send and receive more data than you contracted for.  Using wi-fi when possible will help you conserve your data allotment for when you’re forced to use your carrier’s network.

(Note: A byte is equal to 8 bits, but bytes usually aren’t used to describe the speed of a connection. Instead, bytes are usually used to talk about data transfer, like your cell phone data plan, or data storage, like your hard drive.) 

Cell Phone Tower

The “G” in your cell phone data network refers to the generation of the network.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Justin Smith, used under creative commons license.)

1G, 2G, 3G are terms related to the cellular data networks.  In this case the ‘G’ refers to the generation of cellular network technology being employed to deliver service.  Each new generation of technology improved network capacity so that towers could serve more subscribers more data simultaneously.  One could say it’s similar to the ISP speed plans, but the terminology refers to the overall capacity of the cell tower rather than specific speeds.  By increasing tower capacity, there can be an increase of data transfer speed depending on the total traffic over the cell.

For example, according to industry professionals, a typical 3G phone can connect to the Internet at a maximum speed of up to 21 Mbps, but that’s an approximation and is ultimately determined by cell overall traffic.

Note that the download speed is referred to as ‘up to’ so it really provides a rule of thumb.  It’s also important to note that cellular transmission upload speeds are substantially lower, regardless of which generation of technology is in use.

4G brought about some interesting changes.  When 4G networks became available, most cell phones were not compatible and couldn’t reap the benefits of the higher speed.  4G data transmission was approximately 15 times more than 3G, but since the actual phones couldn’t fully utilize the technology, LTE was developed.

LTE or Long-Term Evolution created a bridge to allow the improved performance with cell phones that were not fully 4G capable.  The LTE patch helped realize data transfer that was up to 10 times faster than 3G until cell phone technology caught up.  In 2020 almost every new cell phone was truly 4G capable – just in time for 5G.

5G provides better download capacity.  In some tests 5G provides more than double the bandwidth of 4G LTE, but the most significant difference is upload speed which can exceed 1 Gbps.  There’s a lot of hype right now about 5G being the future of universal Internet access; it definitely has the potential to be a part of the solution. For you hard core techies out there, here is a deeper dive into 5G and what the future might look like – at least according to some.

Your Wireline Service is Also Part of the Connectivity Solution

Use home wi-fi for cellular devices

You can save data dollar by connecting your cellular devices to your home wi-fi.

Since most wireline ISPs don’t have data caps like cellular providers do, and cell phones can use wi-fi to send and receive data over the Internet, a robust home Internet service with a secure wi-fi network can really stretch your data dollars if you connect your phones and other cellular devices via that wi-fi when you’re at home.

We’ve talked a lot about how much speed you need for your home network – including how much bandwidth even idle cellular devices like phones and tablets use.  Our bandwidth calculator can help you size your Internet plan to your specific needs.

To See How Much Speed Your Family Needs, Download OTELCO’s Bandwidth Calculator Today!