The term 3G internet refers to the third generation of mobile phone standards, as set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). 3G technologies allow mobile operators to offer more service options to their users, including mobile broadband.
3G broadband offers greater flexibility and services by making more efficient use of mobile bandwidth than its predecessor 2G. And although faster, newer 4G technology is now available in the UK, 3G remains the UK's dominant mobile broadband technology.
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The relationship between 2G and 3G is similar to that of dial-up and broadband, or terrestrial TV and digital TV. In all of the latter examples, greater spectral efficiency has enabled more consumer choice and a more effective service. Simply put, more data can be transmitted faster.
3G enables devices such as mobile phones and mobile dongles to deliver broadband-speed internet. Even the lowest-end, cheapest mobile phones are 3G enabled, making it easy to check emails and browse the web on the go.
Mobile broadband via dongles and smartphones has taken off extremely fast. Mobile broadband allows customers to browse the internet, check email and download files, music and video clips from their laptops and PCs wherever there is coverage.
3G is made possible by two complementary technologies - HSDPA and HSUPA (high speed download and upload packet access, respectively). These technologies enable mobile broadband users to access download speeds of up to 21Mb and upload speeds of up to 1.76Mb via a mobile dongle, USB modem or MiFi.
Predecessors of 3G such as 2G and GPRS offered limited internet connectivity that was often costly and slow. Conversely, because 3G uses the airwaves more efficiently, it can offer greater speeds with prices starting at less than £5 per month on some of the cheapest one-month, rolling contract deals.
Who offers 3G internet?
UK 3G providers include:
At one stage, the UK 3G market was more competitive with many more players.
However, O2 has pulled out of the 3G dongle market, while T-Mobile and Orange have been subsumed under the banner of 4G provider EE.
Want to know more?
Not sure our 'What is 3G guide?' answers all your questions? The good news is that uSwitch have a number of other, equally detailed guides to make understanding 3G as simple as possible.