Having studied prepaid mobile and prepaid internet plans for several years now, I have often wondered what the difference between GPRS, WAP, 2G, 3G and the latest craze in 4G is. I can bet you most of the everyday public would be feeling the same way.
Does it make any difference to your experience if all that you get given access to is GPRS? Why do many prepaid mobile broadband providers offer 3G?
These are all interesting questions and if you asked the everyday person they wouldn’t be able to explain to you what they have access to and whether they need something faster.
There certainly are differences and speed is the main feature in this difference. The difference is also very much to do with the generation of technology that your mobile phone or internet provider is giving you access to. The latest is always the best but most providers don’t have access to this and even if they do, most of their customers don’t have the hardware in order to be able to access this technology.
On that note, let’s start with 4G which is the latest. 4G is the latest and the fastest of the mobile internet experiences. When it was first launched in Australia the talk was that it would be faster than all other mobile internet experiences because it was designed for mobile data and the way it handled congestion would ensure a much faster experience compared to 3G.
In Australia, 4G is offered by Vivid Wireless and Telstra. Optus will soon also join the club. However for the everyday person with an iPhone or USB modem, accessing 4G is impossible unless you upgrade your hardware. This includes buying a compatible 4G handset or USB modem.
Technically, the definition of 4G is “the fourth generation of cell phone mobile communications standards”. This is a successor to 3G the third generation. Two standard are used within 4G the mobile WiMAX standard Long term evolution (LTE) standard.
3G is the norm at the moment all around the world. Mobile broadband via a USB modem is offered via this standard. In Australia it is offered by all carriers including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
Whilst the adoption of the 3G standard took a long time across the world and even Australia, the push by the hardware devices to offer 3G services and the demand for these services saw carriers begin to invest in the 3G network. These devices include the popular smart phone, tablets and as mentioned earlier wireless internet modems.
The challenge faced by the 3G network is congestion, because it carries both voice and data at the same time.
The final category is 2G. Defined as the second generation. GPRS and 2G are connected technologies, in fact GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is essentially an upgrade of 2G. We have all heard of MMS, the sending of pictures from your phone to another person. GPRS is the technology which allowed this to be offered. In terms of internet access WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) was the first standard to allow access to the internet over your phone. Some mobile plan providers will only give you WAP internet access. This is fine if your phone is basic and you have no need for lots of browsing on the internet. In most cases these plan will also not offer you any data allowance. Rather they will just charge you based the time you spend on the internet.
So if you have a smart phone or plan to use the internet wirelessly when you are on the road, then 3G is what you should be asking for. Over the next 12 – 18 months, the norm will gradually become 4G.