Is 4G Data Network Speed Really That Important?

The term 4G is thrown around a lot these days and to put it simply, 4G is the next step up from 3G in terms of network data speeds. But is 4G really that big of a deal?

4G is relatively new in the UK with currently only EE offering offering true and stable 4G network speeds. On the other hand in America 4G has been around for a while longer and is widely available from multiple providers and devices.

3G network speed is typically rated at a minimum of 200 kbit/s whilst 4G is usually has an average of around 3-6mbit/s. So it can be said that there may be a substantial difference in download speeds. But is it really necessary?

For the most part, if you’re an average user chances are 4G really shouldn’t be a major deal for you. In general, mobile devices don’t use that much data and when they do it’s usually at a half decent speed for the primary task at hand. For example, say you’re on your way to work on the train and you decide to check what the weather is like (even though you’re already outside) you’ll really only be transferring a few kilobytes of information. So in this case even the speed of a 2G network would suffice theoretically.

Okay so let’s take this one step up. You’re on your way to work on the train and you want to check your email. So you launch your email client and download a few megabytes worth of information. You then proceed to reply to an email with plain text and send a few megabytes. 3G is more than enough in terms of data speed for sending and receiving emails. And again, you could probably get away with 2G even in this case. So let’s take this one step further. You’re on your way home from work on a… let’s make it a bit different. An elephant. And your colleague texts you a link to a YouTube video they forgot to show you earlier in the day. It’s a video about cats so you’re obviously going to want to watch that video before you get home (you might forget when you get in!). So you tap the link and then pops up the YouTube app and the video starts to load. This is the first time you’re going to appreciate your download speed at this point. 2G data speed is simply not enough to stream any, let alone low quality online video. 3G and above will be your best bet here.

So if you haven’t gathered by now. For the most part 4G data speed isn’t that big of a deal unless you’re streaming content on a regular basis. 3G will always suffice for the basic data needs, whether it be social networking, email, weather or location updating. 3G is more than enough in most circumstances. By all means though, don’t allow my seemingly pessimistic views on 4G steer you away from it. 4G is great for what it is. But when your operator tries to sell you it for substantially more than your regular old 3G network don’t just jump into it. Decide whether or not you really need that data speed. And when I say decide, think long-term. Your contract may last 18 months so in that time you may want to start streaming video and music on the go. If that may be the case, then you’re going to want to have as much potential as possible.

It’s usually better to get a little more than you need, than having to use something which is not fulfilling your wants and needs. Think of your computer for example, say all you need is 3GB of memory for what you do but there may be a chance that you may need more at some point, then go for 4 or 5GB. That way you can have the resources you need when you need it.

Another point to mention about 4G connectivity is that it isn’t available everywhere. I mean hey… even 3G connectivity isn’t available everywhere. And it’s now been in operation for over 11 years!

The bottom line is. Don’t spend extra money for a 4G contract or device just because the number is higher than 3G. Just because something has a higher number on it doesn’t make it inherently better, despite what the marketing frequently shouts at you.