What is 3G?

3G Explained

3G is the ‘Third Generation wireless telephone technology’ and superseded 2.5G (also called EDGE) networks. 3G was a significant step forward in terms of reliability and coverage for voice calls, text messages and much faster internet access. In theory, 3G (HSPA) provides users with a download speed of up to 7.2Mbps. However, in reality, the actual speed is typically hovering at around 3Mbps. When 3G was introduced and being marketed the term ‘mobile broadband’ was coined, as using the internet while on the move was now a convenient option. When a phone is connected via. 3G, it will be shown as 3G. 3.5G will be shown as ‘H’ (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access)

3G in IoT

Until now, when an object (a machine, vehicle or sensor …) needs to be connected to know its condition, location, or interact with it, the only solution besides Wifi, is to equip it with a SIM card and subscribe to network technology, such as 3G. However, there are some issues that make the use of 3G for IoT or M2M networks less than ideal.

  • High energy consumption, which requires a permanent power source (and thus wiring) or a powerful battery, which in turn makes the size of the sensor incompatible with many use cases
  • Larger footprint
  • Continuous subscription costs to operate, as there is a need for a radio network to operate antennas to guarantee a stable, reliable connection.
  • The rapidly approaching 3G sunset means that IoT and M2M networks designed around their utilization of 3G may become completely useless within the next couple of years.

In this context, LPWAN (e.g. LoraWAN®) is superior in every way. It is cheap, small, connected devices can operate on battery for several years and it can be optimized to communicate for very small data rates.

What were the primary benefits of 3G Technology during its inception?

3G furthered the improvements and benefits seen in 2G vs 1G technology, in terms of network security/encryption, increased bandwidth and additional data services. While these improvements may seem less than exciting today (especially when compared to 5g), there was substantial reason to be excited back in the early 2000s. The most significant advantage being the increased bandwidth. While 3G’s (HSPA) maximum download speed is around 140 times slower than that of 5G networks, it is about 70 times faster than the previous 2G generation. Besides the download speed, there were also these benefits (some of which are more or less related to bandwidth):

  • Users can view satellites based programs, like TV programs.
  • All facilities/services can be used simultaneously.
  • Increased bandwidth allowed for uninterrupted video streaming.
  • Ability to make video calls and send larger MMS messages.
  • Being able to make video calls, makes mobile business conferencing between cities, and even countries possible.
  • More data-intensive applications can be used remotely
  • 3G networks allow the average consumer to access music, pictures, and videos quickly and conveniently, creating an open market for advertising.

What is the difference between 3G, 3.5G and 3.75G?

With 0.3Mbps, the first basic version of 3G did not offer any improvement in maximum download speed over its predecessor EDGE (commonly referred to as 2.5G). 7 years after the first commercial launches of 3G, 3.5G was released. 3.5G, which is also known as HSPA (High Speed Packet Access), but often confused with 3G, provided a much-needed speed improvement to existing 3G networks (around 20 times faster).

3.75G, which was rolled out soon after, was known as HSPA+ and allowed for theoretical data rates of up to 42Mbit/s. Making 3.75G around 120 times faster than the original 3G protocol.

The inevitable 3G Sunset

The shutdown of certain network technologies, by its providers, is known as sunsetting. Telecom providers do this, to free up resources for impending deployments of newer technology (i.e. 5G). If an IoT or M2M system was designed to use 2G or 3G, this may cause severe problems in the near future.

Many network providers have already published dates for their planned shutdowns. These vary significantly by country:

In the U.S., Verizon already shut down its 3G services with the end of last year. Sprint and AT&T are planning to do so in 2022. Thus T-Mobile is now the only major U.S. telecom provider that hasn’t yet published a shutdown date for their 3G services. (which could happen at any given moment).

In Europe, however, telecoms seem much more keen on shutting down 2G rather than 3G first. Telecom providers in Germany, Norway, Netherlands, Switzerland and all of Europe (Vodafone) have already set due-dates for their 2G sunsets.