Why all the G's?
As a technical care supervisor in a call center for one of the top American cellular providers I hear many of the same questions being raised time and time again. Many customers just want to be educated to know what they are dealing with. With all of the acronyms and abbreviations in technology, it’s no wonder most consumers are left in the cold, frantically pressing buttons and scrolling through menus of confusion. So let’s learn a thing or two about how these things work, shall we?
Let’s talk about the letter G. It seems that when it comes to cell phones we see this letter everywhere. We hear about 3G phones and 4G phones. There are 2GB data plans and 5GB data plans. Even the network is split into 3G’s and 4G’s. The first part we will focus on is the G after 2G, 3G, 4G. This G stands for “generation”. It is a measurement of the advances in mobile internet connections. For most people it is easiest to compare it to the advances in non-mobile internet connections, like the ones in our homes and offices.
Decades ago we started off with dial up internet in our homes. For many years it remained dial up, even though the speeds got slightly faster. Modems went through advances in speeds that were measured by numbers. You may recall hearing numbers like 14.4 or 56 when talking about modems. After dial up we had DSL, then cable, and now fiber optics. The dial up internet we had at home relates to 1G internet for cell phones. 2G speeds are more along the lines of DSL. A 3G cellular connection starts to pick up a bit of speed; we can compare it to the cable connection in a home. Finally we have 4G or 4th Generation cellular connections which are more like fiber optics in homes and offices.
Any cell phone that you buy from your provider will always be what is called “backwards compatible”, meaning that if you buy the latest 4G phone, it will work on a 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G connection. As providers upgrade their network with new technology and new towers, different towers are left with different technologies on them. You may drive down a freeway and pass from 4G down to 2G and then back again, depending on how the network is mapped out. Because of this, a 4G phone will not always get a 4G connection. In fact, there are many instances where a consumer may live in a 2G area with the latest 4G phone, and not be able to take advantage of it because of the lack of network. It is a good idea to as your cellular provider to check the network in your area to make sure any new phone you buy will be a good fit.
The other popular use of the letter G is in GB. The acronym GB stands for gigabyte, and it is a measure of the amount of space a file takes up. We hear all the time about megabytes and kilobytes. MB’s and KB’s. They are actually quite simple. The measurement of file size is based on a metric type system. Just as the metric measurements use centimeters and kilometers, the file system uses kilobytes and megabytes. So 1 kilobyte is 1000 bytes*. 1 megabyte is 1000 kilobytes*. When a cellular company sells you a data plan for a smart phone it will always be rated by the amount of data you can use. A typical plan may be 2GB which means ~2,000MB. This amount of data is more than plenty for most casual phone users. 2GB is an ample amount for checking email and web browsing. Any user that plans to stream video and audio through applications like Netflix or Pandora should consider a higher plan. Most providers have a record of your usage and can use this to help you make an informed decision on which data plan you should get for your phone.
Having even the most basic understanding of these terminologies can go a long way in helping you to speak with your cellular provider about your services and your cell phone. Cell phones are getting more advanced every day, as well as the technology the providers use to service them. Staying ahead of the game leaves you with the confidence of knowing the whys and what’s, as well as helping you to pick the services more suited for your needs and stay in control of your bill.
*Technically the data scale is 1:1024 on all levels. 1KB is truly equal to 1,024 bytes and 1MB is equal to 1,024KB. The numbers are typically rounded for ease of conversion.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Luanne Carmel on September 18, 2019:
Great explanation. What does 2GB of 4G LTE data mean?
John cermak on August 05, 2019:
Thank you . Nice explanation.
Lenny on May 23, 2018:
THANKS ,i FEEL A LOT BETTER ABOUT CELL PHONES NOW
Teddy on August 29, 2017:
thank you. Very easy to understand and informative. Good teaching.
Linda on August 15, 2017:
Thanks Scott on my way to Verizon and i am informed!!
BizVT34 from USA on March 09, 2012:
Well I'll be darned. Makes sense now, thanks for making it easy.