WiFi, 3G, 4G? Which data speed is right for me?

A question we get asked a lot is:  “Hey Republic, which data speed is right for me? 4G is the fastest right? I need that!” Wrong! Well, maybe not entirely wrong… To really answer the question, we need to take a closer look at where and how you use your phone – there’s no wrong way to stay connected!  Data Speeds

The “G” in 3G and 4G stands for “generation.” Simply put, it means the generation of the network that is being used. Before 3G, there was a 2G network, and a 1G network before that (think huge analog briefcase phones). As more and more people use any of these networks, and more and more bandwidth is required to service all those new people, new networks need to be built with a broader servicing capacity. That said, just because 4G is the newest, doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the best for you. You see, there are multiple kinds of 4G networks. Some are only currently offered in certain areas of the US. And, as more people move from one network – lets say 3G to 4G – then it frees up that 3G network so that many times, you’ll see a bump in speed and efficiency there because there are suddenly fewer people using it (this is what happened to the old 2G Edge network when 3G first started becoming mainstream back in 2007). It’s much like a lane of traffic opening up on the freeway and moving over lanes so you can go faster.

As mentioned, 4G comes in different flavors. Primarily:  4G LTE (which stands for “Long Term Evolution”) and 4G WiMAX (which is an older version of 4G designed to deliver wireless broadband to homes and businesses without running expensive cables to every building). WiMax was the first 4G network to be rolled out. It was even backed by Intel but is typically shied away from, even though a number of carriers still offer it for 4G capability. While WiMax was gaining momentum back in 2006, the whole of the cell phone industry shifted focus to LTE, which promised much better compatibility with existing cell phone equipment. The LTE standard was approved in December 2008, with America’s first LTE network coming from MetroPCS in October 2010. Sprint announced last year it will be shutting down its remaining WiMax network as of November 2015 in favor of shifting to its own expanding LTE network.

So – the “4G” label really means nothing when it comes to speed (sort of) and everything to do with it being the newest lane open on the freeway.  Everyone is merging into 4G because it appears to be moving faster, but as soon as everyone does, the 3G lane picks up (sort of).  So then, how do you know which network or “lane” to pick?

3G vs. WiMAX vs. LTE: Performance

 On paper – 3G has a peak data transfer rate of just 200 Kbps. Yeah, that’s slow. Real slow. The standard was established in 2003 and most 3G networks offer speeds 10-12 times that fast these days. WiMax has download speeds of around 30-40Mbps, while LTE delivers up to about 100Mbps. In the real world, though, these networks achieve nothing like these speeds. That’s because a network’s performance depends much more on how it’s built than on the specs of the underlying technology.  Furthermore, if you live in an area where a solid 4G infrastructure hasn’t been put in place, you may find much better coverage sticking to 3G.  Our coverage map can help.  And, you can change your plans from your phone on Republic to test which network gives you the best experience overall.

And what about WiFi?

Ah yes, let’s not forget about WiFi. The best of the best. The largest, fastest network you already use. Every. Single. Day. More and more free WiFi networks pop up (a simple Google news search will confirm it). Our research shows that the average person is around WiFi between work and home about 64% of their day. By 2018 – there are estimated to be more than 340 million available WiFi hotspots. That’s a lot of offload potential for more coverage, in more places, for less money! The speed of any given WiFi connection greatly depends on the signal provided, but for the most part, you’re going to experience the fastest data speeds around a theoretical maximum of 1,300 Mbps, if using the latest 802.11ac signal (more like 50Mbps in real life).  Just like 3G and 4G networks, however, several factors impact overall speed such as distance to the wireless source and how many people are using the same signal/sharing the same bandwidth (lanes of freeway traffic).

BUT! The super cool thing about your Republic phone though, is it’s designed to use WiFi when it is there for calls, texts, and data, and seamlessly switch over to either 3G or 4G whenever you’re not. Idea being, you don’t have to worry about when you’re switching. Your phone takes care of optimizing your experience for you. And, for extra customization, you can manage handover in the Republic app.

 So, which is better 3G, 4G, or WiFi?

The answer is:  It depends! Keeping up the “traffic on the freeway” analogy, at short distances, with an 802.11a or better WiFi network connection, WiFi comes out ahead. Outside of WiFi, 4G LTE offers the best connection, but it’s still pretty new and limited in terms of where it is available across the US, and more and more people are “merging into the 4G LTE lane.”  So, 3G becomes a lot like the tortoise versus the hare here – 3G can be slower, but more steady and reliable. Either way, we’ve designed our service and devices to make any network, 3G, 4G, or WiFi the most easily accessible to fit your life’s plans whenever they might change.  And pretty soon, as some of our members have pointed out, we may do away with measuring members by speed all together in favor of providing everyone with the fastest speeds possible at no extra charge. Member emperordahc said it best:

“We shouldn’t be concerned with this ancient technical detail in 2014…It’s all the same data; the connection speed is pointless. We should be billed based on the amount of data we use, not the speed.”

Thanks, and let us know if you have any questions or feedback in our Community.

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One thought on “WiFi, 3G, 4G? Which data speed is right for me?”

  1. The lowest possible price for the 25GB deal with a phone will set you back £47 a month. For SIM-only you can get 20GB for £40 a month. Vodafone’s overall cheapest deal on 4G is the Nokia Lumia 635 for £17 a month.

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