What the difference is between 4G, LTE, 3G, HSPA+, and GPRS

Vodacom’s Summer marketing campaign was dealt a blow recently when the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) ruled that the network cannot claim to offer 4G mobile services.

Vodacom described its LTE network as 4G, which resulted in a complaint from Cell C.

Cell C submitted the complaint to the ASA after it was taken to the authority by Vodacom in 2010, following its claim at the time that its 21Mbps HSPA+ network was 4G.

With cellular networks arguing over the definitions of their mobile broadband offerings, it is understandable that consumers may be unsure as to what the differences are between 4G, 3G, LTE, LTE-A, HSDPA, and other network abbreviations.

What is 3G and 4G?

The 3G and 4G labels you see on your smartphone display refer to 3rd Generation and 4th Generation mobile broadband technologies.

As mobile broadband infrastructure improves, including faster data transmission speeds, wireless data standards developed over time are grouped into these generations.

Standards like LTE, HSPA+, and EDGE fall within these generation categories – based on their data transmission speeds and when they were developed.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) oversees cellular telecommunications network technologies, and provides specifications on the different mobile broadband standards.

Its partners include the The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions USA; China Communications Standards Association; The European Telecommunications Standards Institute; and Telecommunications Technology Association Korea.

The table below details the various mobile generations, based on 3GPP’s definitions.

Mobile telecommunications technology
1G Analogue technology, from the 1980s onwards.
2G Introduced voice, SMS, and data services. GSM/GPRS, CDMAOne, PDC, iDEN, IS-136 or D-AMPS, EDGE.
3G EDGE Evolution, CDMA2000 1X/EVDO, HSDPA (3.5G), UMTS-HSPA+ (3.75G), and LTE (3.9G).
4G LTE-Advanced.

What is LTE, LTE-Advanced, GPRS, and HSPA+?

LTE, HSPA+, and similar abbreviations are known as wireless data standards.

3GPP provides speed parameters for the major wireless data standards, as detailed in the table below.

Wireless data standards
GPRS 171kbps
EDGE EDGE: 384kbps / EDGE Evolution: 1.3Mbps
HSDPA 13.4Mbps
HSPA+ 21Mbps – 168Mbps
LTE 300Mbps
LTE-Advanced 3Gbps

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What the difference is between 4G, LTE, 3G, HSPA+, and GPRS