What is 3G? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is 3G? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is 3G?

Remember the days when mobile internet was a luxury, not an essential part of our daily lives? The introduction of 3G technology changed that, transforming the way we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves.

But what is 3G, and how did it revolutionize the mobile landscape? Join us on a journey to explore the third generation of mobile telephony, its history, applications, and the future beyond 3G.


  • 3G technology is the third generation of mobile communication that enables high speed internet access on the go.

  • It uses a network of phone towers and wireless connections to provide users with a more reliable connection.

  • The transition from 3G to 4G and 5G is already in progress, with mobile operators providing faster speeds & improved tech.

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Understanding 3G: The Basics

When mobile phones first hit the market, they were primarily used for calls and text messaging. But as demand for internet access on the go grew, the third generation of mobile networks emerged to satisfy our need for speed and connectivity.

3G, or the third generation of access technology, enables internet connectivity on mobile phones and devices by using a network of phone towers to pass signals over long distances. This resulted in a stable and relatively fast connection, allowing us to enjoy internet services on our smartphones and other devices.

To be classified as 3G, services must meet the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) IMT-2000 technical standards, which include cellular network standards for reliability and speed (data transfer rates). To be accepted, a system must exhibit an expected peak data rate of at least 144 kbit/s. Adherence to this standard is essential for the system’s usage.

The security of 3G networks surpassed that of 2G networks thanks to the wireless link provided by cellular service providers, which passes signals from phone tower to phone tower, connecting mobile phones securely.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System

The most widely used 3G standard is the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). Built on the GSM standard, UMTS is a broadband, packet-based system that can provide data rates up to 14.4 Mbps for downloads and 5.8 Mbps for uploads, significantly improving internet connectivity for mobile devices. With such speeds, users can enjoy faster browsing, video streaming, and even video calls on their devices.

UMTS’ foundation on the GSM standard is crucial to its success. GSM is a set of protocols and standards used for mobile networks, and UMTS, as a 3G mobile cellular system, relies on these standards to provide seamless internet access across various networks and devices.

Connecting Mobile Phones to 3G Networks

To connect to a 3G network, mobile phones and devices must be compatible with the network’s technology. 3G services became commercially available in the UK in 2003 through Hutchinson 3G, now known as Three, providing an improved internet experience for mobile phone users. Laptop computers can also benefit from 3G internet connectivity using a dongle, a small device that connects to the computer’s USB port, providing mobile broadband access on the go. Additionally, mobile broadband routers can be used to share the 3G connection with multiple devices.

The introduction of 3G marked a significant milestone in mobile technology, allowing users to surf the web, stream videos, and make video calls – activities that were once unimaginable on mobile devices. The impact of 3G on our daily lives cannot be overstated, as it paved the way for even faster and more advanced mobile networks like 4G and 5G.

The Evolution of Mobile Technology: From 1G to 3G

The history of mobile telephony began with the first-generation (1G) networks in the early 1980s, which used frequency division multiple access (FDMA) to carry analog voice over channels in the 800 MHz frequency band. In the 1990s, mobile operators deployed two digital voice standards, ushering in the second generation (2G) of connectivity. This competition enabled new services and enhanced user experience for consumers.

To make the switch from 2G to 3G, mobile operators had to upgrade their existing networks while also planning new mobile broadband networks, leading to the establishment of two 3G families: 3GPP and 3GPP2. Each generation of mobile telephony has promised faster speeds and different access technology.

3G, in particular, has been a game-changer in providing internet access on mobile phones. With the 3GPP and 3GPP2 families in place, mobile operators were able to offer advanced cellular technology to their customers, meeting the growing demand for mobile data services.

First and Second Generation Networks

1G networks were the first step in mobile telephony, providing analog voice calls and text messages in the 1980s. As technology advanced, 2G networks emerged in the 1990s, introducing digital data transmission and enabling users to access the mobile internet through cellular networks, utilizing general packet radio service technology.

The late 90s and early 2000s saw the introduction of 2.5G, a technology offering faster data transmission speeds than 2G networks, acting as a bridge between 2G and 3G networks. The transition from 1G and 2G networks to 3G was driven by the increasing demand for internet access on mobile phones.

The 3G technology was designed to provide high-speed internet connectivity, setting the stage for a new era of mobile telephony.

The Birth of 3G

Telecom companies marketed 3G as wireless mobile internet services that met the IMT-2000 technical standards, with a minimum speed of 144 kbit/s. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) played a crucial role in the development of 3G networks, working tirelessly to ensure that mobile telephony could be enabled and the growing need for mobile data services could be met.

3G had its first commercial launch through NTT DoCoMo in Japan on 1 October 2001, followed by Telenor opening their commercial network in Europe in December 2001.

As 3G networks spread across the globe, they revolutionized the way we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves. However, as technology continued to advance, 4G and 5G networks were developed to deliver even faster speeds and more reliable connections, gradually replacing 3G services.

Applications and Use Cases for 3G

3G technologies have a wide range of applications and use cases, from wireless voice telephony and mobile internet access to fixed wireless internet access, video calls, and mobile TV. Its versatility extends beyond typical mobile phone use – 3G can also be utilized for medical devices, fire alarms, and even ankle monitors.

The advent of 3G networks enabled us to enjoy faster speeds compared to 2G networks, making downloads and streaming faster and more convenient. As 4G and 5G networks continue to gain popularity, the significance of 3G in the evolution of mobile telephony remains undeniable.

Comparing 3G, 4G, and 5G Technologies

While 3G marked a significant shift in mobile connectivity, the development of 4G and 5G networks has taken mobile telephony to new heights. Each generation offers different speeds, bandwidths, and latencies – 4G is faster than 3G, while 5G is faster than both its predecessors. For example, 5G uses MIMO and mm Waves, whereas 3G utilizes WCDMA technology. Additionally, 3G has a bandwidth of 25 MHz, while 5G boasts a bandwidth of 30-300 GHz.

As mobile carriers upgrade their networks to incorporate the latest technologies, they sometimes shut down older 2G and 3G networks. This means that users with devices that only support 3G service need to upgrade to devices compatible with 4G or 5G networks in order to continue enjoying mobile internet access.

Advantages and Limitations of 3G

3G networks offer several advantages over their predecessors, such as faster data connectivity, improved multimedia capabilities, and location-based services. With a maximum real-world speed of 7.2 Mbps for downloads and 2 Mbps for uploads, 3G is capable of providing a stable network connection for various tasks, including web browsing, video streaming, and audio streaming.

However, 3G also has its limitations. Compared to newer systems like 4G and 5G, 3G networks have lower maximum bit rates, can experience latency issues, and may be more expensive in terms of spectrum-license, network deployment, and handset subsidies.

Transitioning from 3G to 4G and 5G

The transition from 3G to 4G and 5G networks is already underway, with major networks in the UK such as EE, Vodafone, Three, and O2 offering faster and more advanced mobile telephony services. As the world embraces faster speeds and improved technology of 4G and 5G networks, the relevance of 3G is diminishing, with many operators discontinuing their 3G services.

Users who want to make the switch from 3G to 4G or 5G networks can either switch to a mobile operator that still supports 2G and 3G networks or purchase a device that is compatible with 4G or 5G networks.

The International Telecommunication Union continues to play a crucial role in setting standards, regulations, and offering advice as the world transitions from 3G to 4G and 5G networks.

The Future of 3G: Network Sunsets and Beyond

With the increasing popularity of 4G and 5G networks, cellular providers worldwide are phasing out 2G and 3G networks to advance the adoption of newer standards and optimize radio access technology platform deployments. As a result, some older mobile phones and devices connected to the 3G network will no longer work, leaving consumers in need of upgrades and alternative options.

In the face of the 3G phaseout, it’s essential for consumers to contact their mobile providers, inquire about their 3G phaseout plan, and explore lower-cost options before their devices become obsolete.

As we bid farewell to 3G, we can look forward to the continued advancement of mobile telephony with 4G and 5G technologies, providing faster speeds, lower latency, and more reliable connections.

Preparing for the 3G Phaseout

As the 3G phaseout approaches, consumers need to take action to ensure they are not left without mobile connectivity. Contacting your mobile provider and asking about their 3G phaseout plan is a crucial first step. It’s also essential to explore lower-cost options, such as switching to a provider that still supports 2G and 3G networks, or upgrading to a device compatible with 4G or 5G networks.

Users of various types of devices connected to the 3G network, such as medical devices, home security systems, and vehicle SOS services, need to be aware of the phaseout and prepare accordingly. While the 3G network has served us well, it’s time to embrace the future and transition to faster, more advanced mobile networks.

The Role of the International Telecommunication Union

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has been instrumental in the development of 3G standards, setting guidelines and standards for the creation of 3G networks and services. As the world transitions from 3G to 4G and 5G networks, the ITU continues to play an important role in setting standards, regulations, and providing advice on how to move existing 3G networks and services to more advanced networks.

The ITU’s commitment to ensuring all countries have access to the most up-to-date mobile technologies has been crucial in the evolution of mobile telephony. As we look towards the future, the ITU’s guidance and support will be invaluable in facilitating a smooth transition from 3G and unlocking the potential of 4G and 5G technologies.


Over the years, 3G technology has revolutionized the way we communicate, work, and entertain ourselves, providing high-speed internet access on mobile phones and other devices. As we transition to even faster and more advanced 4G and 5G networks, it’s essential to remember the impact 3G has had on our lives and the mobile landscape. While we prepare for the 3G phaseout and embrace the future of mobile telephony, let’s take a moment to appreciate the groundbreaking advancements 3G has brought to the world.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is 3G technology?

3G technology is the third generation of mobile communication that enables high-speed internet access on the go. It uses a network of phone towers and wireless connections to provide users with a more reliable connection.

This technology has revolutionized the way people communicate and access information. It has enabled people to stay connected even when they are on the move. It has also made it easier for businesses to do business.

Is LTE the same as 3G?

No, LTE is not the same as 3G. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is associated with the 4G and 5G wireless communications standards designed to provide higher speeds than the 3G networks for mobile devices. It is significantly faster than 3G, with download speeds up to 10x faster than 3G.

How do you know if your phone is 3G?

To quickly check if your phone is 3G, look for the 3G logo on the top of your phone screen or go to settings and search under the cellular tab. Click on “Data options” and it should tell you what you use for voice & data – if it says 3G, then you know your phone is 3G compatible.

What are 3g speeds?

3G speeds provide fast access to the internet, with an average speed of 3 Mbps, which is 30 times faster than 2G connections. Some 3G networks can even reach speeds of 7 Mbps, providing improved speeds and access to data.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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