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3G vs 4G: What’s the difference?

With the 3G network starting to shut down at the end of 2023, how does 4G compare to it? And how does 5G fit into all of this?

What you need to know

  • 4G download speeds can be twice as fast as 3G download speeds – and even faster in some cases.
  • The 3G network will begin shutting down from 15 December 2023 with Vodafone.
  • 5G networks are continuing to expand across Australia, with Telstra aiming for 95% population coverage by mid-2025.

What is the difference between 3G and 4G?

3G and 4G both refer to different generations of wireless mobile network technology, with 3G being the third generation and 4G being the fourth. Each new generation allows for increased bandwidth and faster data speeds in order to support various applications.

As the successor to 3G, the 4G network is capable of delivering significantly faster speeds within its coverage areas. Where 4G coverage is unavailable, it simply falls back to the 3G network.

Wireless networks operate on bands of the radio spectrum. In Australia, 3G networks are typically confined to the 850MHz, 900MHz and 2,100MHz frequencies, whereas 4G adds 700MHz, 1,800MHz, 2,300MHz and 2,600MHz to the mix.

Those additional spectrums are key to 4G's higher speeds.

3G4G
Maximum download speed42Mbps150Mbps
Minimum download speed550Kbps2Mbps
Average population coverage98.95%95.2%

What is 4G LTE?

4G LTE stands for 4th Generation Long-Term Evolution. This was an improvement in speeds as well as capacity on the 4G network.

3G vs 4G speeds

Speeds on 4G are faster than those on 3G.

On 3G, you can expect download speeds of up to 20Mbps. With 4G, download speeds can reach up to 100–180Mbps depending on which network you're on.

Keep in mind though, your day-to-day experience of speeds on the mobile network won't always reach the maximum available. Speeds on a mobile network can be affected by such factors as:

  • How close you are to a mobile tower
  • Congestion on the mobile network
  • Weather conditions

How does 4G differ from 3G?

If you don't have access to 4G yet, it's probably because you live in a remote area of Australia. The government is working hard at addressing mobile black spots in regional areas and both Optus and Telstra announced partnerships with Starlink to offer more coverage across Australia.

If you can't access the 4G network, you may have to look at connection via satellite. You can do this via the NBN Satellite or directly to Starlink.

The other reason you may not have access to 4G yet is the device you're using is only 3G compatible. That is a much easier fix in that you can upgrade to a device that allows you to access the 4G network.

3G network providers are supporting customers to ensure they are ready for the shutdown. Telstra has committed to providing 4G coverage before the closure of the 3G network. Optus and Vodafone are reaching out to customers to ensure they have upgraded their devices to be able to continue using the 4G network.

3G network shutdown

As more and more devices use 4G and 5G networks, the 3G network is being shut down. From 15 December 2023, Vodafone will have shut down its 3G network, with Telstra and Optus to have followed suit by September 2024.

What about 5G?

5G is the next generation of mobile networks after 4G. Once again there is another step up in speed, reliability and latency.

With 3G networks on their way to shutting down, 4G will replace old 3G networks, with 5G being the new player in the field.

5G has been rapidly expanding throughout the country, with Telstra aiming for 95% coverage of Australians by mid-2025.

3G vs 4G vs 5G

The higher the generation of mobile network technology, the faster the speed, capacity of the network to handle traffic and the latency (the time data takes to travel across the network).

Speed: While 4G speeds can go up to about 180Mbps, 5G networks will surpass this easily by offering up to 20Gbps. As with the usual caveat on mobile speeds, this will depend on various factors but you can expect a minimum of 100Mbps. This is already faster than the majority of fixed-line NBN connections.

Network capacity: 5G will allow for more devices to connect to the network at the same time. This will allow for new advances in self-driving cars, connected machinery and more.

Latency: Latency is how long it takes for your signal to reach its destination and come back. 5G should lower average latency from 4G's 60 milliseconds to just 1 millisecond. This could, for example, let you watch a live video with almost no delay or improve the quality and ease of video conferencing.


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6 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    MargaretDecember 14, 2017

    Can a 4G SIM be used in 3G mobile phone?

      AvatarFinder
      JasonDecember 15, 2017Finder

      Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for your enquiry.

      Whilst you can use a 4G SIM card on a 3G mobile phone, you’ll only be able to get and use 3G signal on the device. You won’t be able to enjoy the benefits and speed that is offered by 4G.

      Kind regards,
      Jason

    Default Gravatar
    brianJuly 29, 2017

    will a 3g sim card work on my 2g phone

      Default Gravatar
      DanielleJuly 30, 2017

      Hi Brian,

      Thank you for contacting finder. We are a comparison website and general information service, we’re more than happy to offer general advice.

      Yes, they work. A SIM is just a digital identification chip for cell phones and has nothing to do with 3G or 2G. The phone should have appropriate communication radios (chips) to receive and send data at 3G/2G speeds.

      I hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Danielle

    Default Gravatar
    MayJuly 8, 2017

    The 2G network is being switched off. Is this going to happen with 3G too?

      Default Gravatar
      JonathanJuly 8, 2017

      Hi May!

      Thanks for getting back!

      Not an impossible outcome. Technology is constantly evolving and some countries offer 5G now and we can expect this to move forward as time goes.

      Therefore, this may push the network to adapt and take-off its old network configuration.

      We may recommend that you stay-tuned of future network announcements and talk to your provider as necessary.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

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