internet speeds on phone

Internet Speeds Explained: EDGE, GSM, 3G, 4G, 5G and beyond

5G technology and more recently 6G technology is on the horizon. As it becomes more prevalent, however, you may still find yourself wondering about 4G — that is, the fourth generation of mobile broadband. You’ve probably wondered: what exactly is 4G? How does it compare to other mobile speeds like EDGE, or HSPA?

High internet speeds are important for business performance and productivity, which is why it’s important to have the right infrastructure and connectivity contracts in place. Whether you’re operating in the field, managing a distributed team or working from a centralised location, Comms365 can help you to find the right solution for your needs.

Here, we take a closer look at the options available and explain how different technologies can deliver varying internet speeds:

What Is GSM?

The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) has been around since the 1980s, so you’ve probably heard of GSM, even if you aren’t sure what it is. In simple terms, GSM refers to the protocols used on second-generation, or 2G networks.

While first-generation technology relied on analogue cellular networks, 2G heralded a new era in the form of a digital, circuit-switched network, which offered faster speeds and better performance. Although the GSM was first developed to facilitate voice telephony, further enhancements enabled data communications to be exchanged too.

What Is GPRS?

G.P.R.S., or General Packet Radio Service, built on the success of GSM and enabled data communications via packet transport. Although data communications could be facilitated by GSM, it relied on circuit-switched transportation. When G.P.R.S. was introduced, however, sending and receiving packets of data become commonplace amongst mobile device users and was typically faster and more cost-effective. For this reason, G.P.R.S. is often referred to as 2.5G, although it’s really a variation of the 2G technology delivered by GSM.

What Is EDGE?

EDGE  (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) is considered a superset to G.P.R.S., which means it can be used on any G.P.R.S. network, if the carrier makes it available. As an effective ‘add-on’, EDGE has been referred to as 2.75G in terms of technology. EDGE uses an enhanced modulation and coding system, which can increase capacity and performance threefold in comparison to standard GSM or G.P.R.S. connections.

Further developments led to Evolved EDGE, also known as EDGE Evolution. Various modifications were made to the technology to reduce latency, which means that devices using Evolved EDGE benefit from faster speeds than regular EDGE connections.

What Is 3G?

The first commercial 3G networks were introduced in 2001 and they represented a significant shift in mobile technology. Based on International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) specifications, a 3G network originally delivered a maximum information transfer rate of 0.3Mbps with an average transfer rate of 0.1Mbps. As the technology evolved and 3.5G and 3.75G solutions became available, however, internet speeds increased on 3G networks, with many delivering multiple Mbit/s.

Although 3G networks are still used, many companies and countries are slowly phasing out their support for 3G connectivity. As 4G, 5G and 6G technology comes to the fore, newer technologies will replace 3G networks in upcoming months and years.

Despite this, the majority of network providers are retaining 2G networks as a fallback due to their low power needs and relatively low costs.

What Speeds Does 4G Offer?

As you might expect, the fourth generation (4G) of broadband cellular technology delivered even faster speeds, with mobile users theoretically benefiting from transfers of up to 150Mbps. Capable of facilitating mobile web access and IP telephony services, the increased speeds available on 4G networks also enable users to access gaming services, video conferencing, high-def mobile television and 3D television.

Unlike earlier technologies, 4G uses IP-based communications and must meet IMT-Advanced standards. It should be worth noting that 4G-LTE Advanced provides theoretical download speeds of up to 300Mbps.

How Fast is 5G Technology?

5G technology is expected to surpass 4G in terms of popularity, mainly because of the increasing high internet speeds it can provide.

5G speeds are noticeably higher than earlier forms of broadband cellular technology, while latency and error rates are lower.  Thus, providing a platform for the network to accommodate low latency applications, which in the past would have only been provided over Fixed Line services. OFCOM has provided theoretical figures for 5G services which are between 10 Gbps and 50 Gbps. However, currently, we are seeing a wide variety of speeds across the network operators in the UK of between 50 Mbps and 750 Mbps.  As the technology evolves, it is hoped that 5G networks will be able to provide users with speeds of up to 10 Gbps.

As discussed earlier, the increased performance available via 5G means that networks can deliver a wider range of usage options. As well as facilitating high speed mobile internet usage, for example, 5G is being used for two-way IoT communication and as a replacement for fixed connections.

Indeed, it is the high speeds, low latency and enhanced flexibility of 5G technology that makes it a real contender against traditional fixed connections and existing ISPs. When combined with multi-access edge computing, it’s believed that a ‘near real-time’ response can be achieved using 5G connectivity.

While 5G is still being rolled out, you can assess its availability and suitability for your needs with a handy 5G coverage map. With antennas still being installed, you can be confident that networks will continue to enhance coverage as time goes by.

What Does the Future Hold?

The sixth generation of broadband cellular technology (6G) is already under development and, when available, you can expect even more enhanced performance. With higher speeds, diverse use cases, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), are likely to be available on 6G-enabled devices, for example.

With 3G soon to be phased out and 4G and 5G networks becoming increasingly popular, many businesses are utilising these network technologies to access optimal speeds, reliability and performance. To find out which technologies are best for your business, talk to the team at Comms365 now on 01234 865880 or email us at