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It’s a battle every time you drive through McDonald’s. Your WiFi auto connects, but for some reason it’s slower than your LTE. But the building is blocking a good signal, so you’re only getting 4G–you’re confused–it’s chaos! Let’s break down the differences and, just for fun, see who wins.
Battle of the G’s
For starters, the G stands for “generation.” 1G were analog cell phones. 2G introduced digital signal, and mobile internet (it was very limited at the time). 3G and 4G, however… that turf war got interesting.
Both 3G and 4G devices offer broadband mobile internet access, but have massively different standards. 3G networks peaked at 200 kilobits per second (Kbps) download speeds.
For reference, by today’s standards, the average Youtube video is 11 minutes long, and videos stream at 1080p. To watch an average Youtube video on a 3G connection would use 550-750 Mb of data, and take almost 7 hours to render out.
How fast is 3G LTE in Mbps by today’s standards? It caps at about 7 Megabits per second (Mbps).
How fast is 4G LTE Internet Speeds? To qualify for 4G on the other hand, rates have a minimum requirement of 100 Mbps while mobile (traveling in a car or subway), and 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) when stationary.
While these are minimum standards, things like distance, number of users, and even weather can all impact transfer rates.
Typically there are more 4G networks in operation than 3G, meaning easier access and better service areas.
Which is Faster: 4G LTE or WiFi?
LTE (or LTE Advanced) stands for long-term evolution. It’s the final step in 4G technology before the infrastructure transfers to 5G on the whole. So while your phone typically relies on the signal provided by your cell carrier–it also has the option to connect to a WiFi router.
Wireless routers carry the benefit of being hardwired into the data stream–meaning that you have a closer proximity to the actual access of the internet, than however far away you are from the nearest cell phone tower. Meaning (typically) no dead zones.
The speed of the WiFi is dependent on the plan and provider. In some cases your LTE may serve you better than some routers. There’s also a rise in the popularity of dual band routers.
These offer two dedicated lines of data transmission–typically a 2.4 GHz and 5GHz frequency. Often, phones get auto-routed to the 2.4 GHz frequency, which is fairly comparable to your current LTE plan.
The number of connected devices can also affect the overall WiFi speeds. Some companies have seen peak speeds of over 300 Mbps, and unless you’re using a mu-mimo (multi-user, multiple input, multiple output) router–the more users jump on board, the more bandwidth disappears. A mobile network is built to support multiple users across a wide area of land, and typically gets stronger with more active users in the area.
So without the use of a WiFi Booster, the battle of LTE and WiFi comes down to access, location, and provider. Mobile phones are great since they can switch from one to the other with ease, and usually without breaking any kind of connectivity.
Where Do You Stand
The easiest way to find out the difference between the two, is to run a network speed test, and a Wifi Speed test.
Using your phone, disconnect from the WiFi and run a net speed test to find out what your carrier is providing. Test results will give you your download and upload speeds, as well as ping rates, and even signal strength.
Connect to WiFi and run the test again. Compare the numbers and of course go with the better speeds.
Find out if you should ditch the Wi Fi Router and use your mobile network instead.
Paul Williams brings a wide range of experiences to his writing. He worked extensively in technology, as a software engineer, technical writer, and now a technology writer. Known as the leader of one of the top American Spacerock bands, his forward-looking music continues to be heard all over the world.