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Are 3G phones still relevant in a 4G world?

Posted: , by Nick T.

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Are 3G phones still relevant in a 4G world?
The nation's wireless networks are evolving before our eyes – a couple of years ago, 4G connectivity sounded like an advanced technology from the future, yet today, 4G is on its way to becoming as ubiquitous as hot dogs or vanilla ice cream. Every major carrier offers blazing-fast 4G data services nowadays, and the number of 4G-enabled devices is growing steadily.

However, 3G technologies are anything but obsolete. Even though 3G has been around for quite a while, many people still rely on it for Internet access on the go. Furthermore, the current 4G networks seem to be still too young to dominate the market as handling the ever-increasing demand for data throughput is quite a challenge for the nation's wireless carriers.

So, are 3G phones still relevant in a world where 4G is already taking over? In order to answer that question in the best possible way, let's start by figuring out what the extra oomph that 4G delivers can be actually used for. Having a faster access to the Internet means that web pages will load in seconds, uploading photos will happen almost instantly, and streaming music or HD videos onto a 4G smartphone will be a piece of cake. However, the casual smartphone owner who uses their smartphone mostly to check emails, access their favorite social network, and to look something up every once in a while will not notice that big of a difference.

The Motorola DROID X2, which launched recently, boasts high-end specs, yet has no 4G on board

The Motorola DROID X2, which launched recently, boasts high-end specs, yet has no 4G on board

It is definitely the few data-hungry services that can truly take advantage of the 4G networks. For now, however, 3G speeds are still adequate for most people's needs. Maybe that is why carriers are still launching reasonable high-end smartphones without support for 4G connectivity on board, the Motorola DROID X2 being a fresh example. Grabbing a 4G smartphone is only advised if you are confident that the speedy wireless connection will be truly of use to you.

Nevertheless, do not get us wrong – 3G is pretty much destined to be replaced by 4G technologies sooner or later, but it is just going to take a little more time before the carriers' networks are fully developed. Right now, Verizon boasts the fastest 4G speeds that you can get on a smartphone thanks to its LTE network, but T-Mobile HSPA+ pipelines are not too far behind in terms of performance. AT&T currently relies on HSPA+ as well, but we already know that the carrier is only a few steps away from launching an LTE network too, albeit in just a few cities. So where does Sprint rank on the speed chart? Well, the nation's third largest carrier has a pretty decent 4G service as well - Sprint was the first to deploy next-gen wireless broadband across the country through its WiMAX network. However, it has been rumored many times that we may see Sprint jumping on board of the LTE bandwagon in order to catch up.

So, even though we at the dawn of a 4G revolution, as long as you are happy with your 3G smartphone, there doesn't seem to be that much of a need for you to upgrade it at this time. However, it will not take long for more and more next-gen services to show up – they will be the ones that will truly make the most of 4G's extra bandwidth and will bring 4G to the mainstream. We can only guess how that future will look like, but we already have the feeling that it is going to be quite an experience.

Phonearena polls
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Is a phone's lack of 4G support a dealbreaker for you?
21.5%
175 votes
(175 votes) Yes – A phone without 4G support is practically obsolete, and the boost in Internet speed is very important to me.
32.43%
264 votes
(264 votes) No - 3G can still provide sufficient bandwidth for everything that I use my smartphone for, and it doesn't really matter whether my phone supports 4G or not.
46.07%
375 votes
(375 votes) It is not now, but it will be soon – As soon as the 4G networks become reliable and widespread, I will be definitely looking for a 4G phone.

814 votes


20 Comments
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posted on 01 Jun 2011, 05:20 3

1. Droid_X_Doug (Posts: 5950; Member since: 22 Dec 2010)


If the carriers could get the latency down to 70 milliseconds 90+% of the time, 3G would have a longer lifespan. There are issues with 4G's maturity (principally LTE handset's power-hungry radios) that a speedy 3G network could buy time to sort out. Unfortunately, improving 3G would basically be a throw-away expenditure, because in probably 1 to 2 years the teething issues for LTE will have been sorted out.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 05:35 2

2. StrumerJohn (Posts: 66; Member since: 18 May 2011)


Meh, Arizona doesn't even have 4G. This news means nothing to me.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 14:07 1

16. quakan (Posts: 1221; Member since: 02 Mar 2011)


My city wont be getting 4G from Verizon until late summer 2011, but even then I still won't care all that much.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 14:46

17. cmmbac (Posts: 1; Member since: 01 Jun 2011)


but u r a loser and no one cares what u think

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 05:43 2

3. steviewonders (Posts: 20; Member since: 03 Nov 2009)


4G isn't available in the UK and it's hardly world wide. Wish they'd push onto it though.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 06:05

4. Jeradiah3 (Posts: 1008; Member since: 11 Feb 2010)


This is nothing new. 3G was the new technology when 2G was dominant so it was a matter of time, but people are using their phones like computers so it was coming.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 07:51 1

5. Jayray78 (Posts: 13; Member since: 01 Jun 2011)


I guess I'll be the guy who has to point out that Wi-Max and LTE are not true 4G. Don't be fooled by marketing. Having said that...and having an LTE Thunderbolt. I leave the LTE radio off most of the time and only turn it on when I know that I will be doing heavy browsing or downloading large files. The battery concerns are all valid. LTE eats batteries quickly. Unfortunately, battery life hasn't really been a priority for development yet.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 08:22 4

6. JeffdaBeat (unregistered)


Unfortunately, they are true 4G. The folks who make these standards lowered their standards to include HSPA+, LTE, and WiMAX and I think that's the biggest reason I can't buy into it. The speeds aren't ridiculously faster than what's out there right now. I don't gain any extra feature out of my phone like I would if I switched from 2G to 3G. Even for those folks that are experiencing 15mbps, I wonder how that will hold up when more people are on the network. But even with that number, I'm not impressed.

Right now, 3G is fast enough for me. Hopefully they do something about the latency, but I doubt it. But video plays just fine. Internet speed is fast when tethering. When 4G matures and LTE Advanced comes out, I'll be on board...but right now, it's an excuse for the TelCo's to get more money out of me...

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 13:43

14. luis_lopez_351 (Posts: 951; Member since: 18 Nov 2010)


Actually, they are True 4G Technology and technology only, but when it comes to advertisement and speeds and all other cr*p, its not 4G. 4G is when you can get 100 mbps Anywhere and daily. I still dont see that in America. So yeah, We dont have 4G, but we have the technology for it. Big difference.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 09:44 2

9. snowgator (Posts: 3287; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)


Would be nice to see battery tech catch up to everything else. But battery life hasn't hurt sales at all, so it will be the last to improve.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 09:42 1

8. snowgator (Posts: 3287; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)


4G is like dual core processors- right now, about a year ahead of it's time. If both the carriers and device makers learn from the start-ups, then in 12 - 14 months or so the LTE expansion will be worth the wait. If we buy a 3G device on a two year contract, you probably are not losing too much. (I am in favor of buying a dual core product for Android devices only on a two year contract, but that is for another poll ....)

Sprint may end up being the lucky one out of this. Yes they need to move to LTE from WiMax, but the other carriers are spending the money on investment structure as well. Where Sprint has good reception, the 4G is solid. When they make the move, the LTE tech will have been well established, hopefully making for an easier transition for them. Not easy or cheap, mind you. Just easier then if they were among the first to go to LTE.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 11:39

10. mayra28 (unregistered)


well i live in mexico and we still dont have 4G. one thing i have noticed is that only in america they call hspa+ 4G. over here telcel and iusacell have there networks running at 21 mbps and there still called 3G networks when i walked into a telcel store i told the guy that works there that in the US they call 21 mbps 4G and he just laughed he said tru 4G is LTE not hspa+ that hspa+ is 3.5G not 4G and he told me telcel will be doubling it to 42 mbps later this year and  that by october they will double it again to 80 something mbps and that by 2012 they will move on to LtE  right now they have a few cell phones that work with there hspa+ running at 21 mbps . so yea i think 3g phones are still important because many places like mexico and the uk still dont get LTE. also can anyone please explain to me why they call 21 mbps 4G in the US?

posted on 02 Jun 2011, 01:05

21. TmobileFTW (unregistered)


Since when do they have cell phones in mexico? somebody please tell me

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 13:34

11. smalltank (Posts: 19; Member since: 26 May 2011)


speaking of sprint..they MUST do something with their customer service!..getting a $600 bill makes NO sense..and neither does a sales rep entering a "code" to get me $25 a month cause I want it..in about 6 months when Sprint reviews my application..I will get a bill for much more cause the sales reps code wasn't valid..FYI

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 13:48

15. luis_lopez_351 (Posts: 951; Member since: 18 Nov 2010)


Aren't 4G phones also 3G compatible??? Also, why not make phones 3G but are able to be upgradeable to 4G, Like the Motorola XOOM.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 17:12 1

18. PedroCst (unregistered)


I ask why is 4G needed. To eat us money?

I prefer to get one and turn my i4's Internet. Don't want to waste money in something I have at my own place.


Even 3.5G is useless, from my point of view.

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 19:41

19. sonisoe (Posts: 336; Member since: 06 May 2009)


of course the faster the better, and i can see in the nxt 3-4 yrs 4g will be widespread & more "common". however, battery technology should also improve, otherwise, it will suck the juice out a phone in no time and that's like having a ferrari without gasoline...

posted on 01 Jun 2011, 22:07

20. erisrivera (Posts: 7; Member since: 18 May 2011)


HAHAHA 3G PLEASE WITH TMOBILES (AKA) (T)ERRIBLE MOBILES SLOW ASS SHITTYY EDGE CONNECTION THAT I GET PRETTY MUCH ANYWHERE I GO I WENT TO A TOWN THAT VERIZON HAD 4G AND I WAS SWITCHING BETWEEN EDGE AND 3G MOSTLY EDGE THE WHOLE TIME WHILE EVERY OTHER NETWORK WOULD GET A STRONG 3G OR OF COURSE 4G HAHA 4G WHAT'S THAT 3G WHATS THAT IM SO DEFINATELY FOR SURE SWITCHING TO VERIZON AND I'VE ONLY BEEN WITH (T)ERRIBLE MOBILE FOR 4 MONTHS CMON I THREW MY,, MY TOUCH (SLOWG) ON THE WALL CUS IT WAS SO DAMM SLOW!!!!! I HATEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!! (T)ERRIBLE MOBILE

posted on 02 Jun 2011, 11:21

22. jacky_luvsjrod (Posts: 53; Member since: 26 May 2010)


@#21 tmobileftw are u retarted or something? ? Its embarrassing that Mexico is more advanced in cellphone technology than us. Like for example they took out video calling in 2006 on cellphones. The first time we saw video calling on a cellphone in America was in 2009 on the htc evo. So were 3 years late. Also only us americans are stupid enough to think hspa+ is 4G when hspa+ is still considered 3G all over the world not only in Mexico but in all of Europe and canada and asia hspa+ is still considered 3G only in america they call it 4G look it up if u don't believe me.

posted on 02 Jun 2011, 13:48

23. digicon (unregistered)


What about for the phones? Is it a big deal of engineering to change a phone from 3G to 4G? or is it easy to just add a new chip or something? or do they need to revamp the whole programming ? ? ? What is it ? Either way, in the future, they will all still be 3G/4G phones. I dont see the day when there would be a 4G only phone. You think?

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