What is 3G?

3G is a term that gets used a lot when talking about mobile phones, but what exactly does it mean? Read the Which? guide to 3G.

3G actually stands for third generation, and refers to the type of connection a mobile phone can make.

The first generation of mobile phones transmitted on an analogue signal. This was then supplanted by a second generation of digital signals – called 2G.

The next step was 3G. Or rather then next step, or half step, was EDGE, which can be thought of as 2.5G. This represented an improvement on 2G, but it was the development of 3G that really saw mobile phone technology leap forward.

3G was a major improvement as it allowed the signal to carry far larger amounts of data, thus enabling 3G mobile phones to access the internet at reasonable speeds.

In theory 3G phones should be able to download data at 384kb/s.  This translates to downloading a song in around a minute. Or at least that’s the theory – in real life you’re likely to experience much slower speeds due to poor signal strength.

The advent of 3G technology has seen mobile internet access take off and has resulted in the development of smartphones. But the latest smartphones are moving beyond standard 3G and now include HSPA.

HSPA stands for High Speed Packet Access and is sometimes referred to as 3.5G. This can carry even more data, with different handsets capable of speeds such as 7.2Mbits/s or 14.4Mbit/s.

You may hear these phones referred to as HSDPA (High Speed Download Packet Access) or HSUPA (High Speed Upload Packet Access) but it’s the same basic technology. There is now also HSPA+ which offers theoretical speeds of up to 56Mbit/s, though there are very few areas in the UK that provide a compatible signal.

While 3G is great for accessing the internet, it’s also power hungry and can quickly drain a phone’s battery. If you find your mobile battery doesn’t last for very long then try turning off the 3G access when you’re not using the internet. This option is normally found in the settings menu.

Looking for the best phones for accessing the internet? Check out the Which? guide to the best web browsing phones.

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