Mobile Bandwidth: An Expert Explains 3G, 4G, WiFi

The usability of a mobile website frequently depends on the speed of the wireless connection. A mobile user with a 3G cellular connection, for example, would likely be frustrated with the relative slow response to a WiFi-optimized mobile site.

But what, exactly, is the difference between 3G, 4G and WiFi connections? We asked Steven Trugbild, with, to explain the difference to us. His development firm specializes in making traditional websites mobile friendly. And it’s that is mobile-optimizing an ecommerce site,, in our series “Optimizing an Ecommerce Site for Mobile Devices.”

What’s a 3G cellular connection? What does that mean?

“3G means ‘3rd Generation’ of wireless connection standards. For mobile phone users, it means the higher speed connection that allows video calls and watching mobile television and video, in addition to services available in the previous standards.”

Compare a 3G connection to a 4G.

“4G refers to the ‘4th Generation,’ which includes new technical features and higher bandwidth. For mobile users, 4G means the higher quality of services, including the possibility of new ones, like high definition television. Depending on coverage, 4G will have connection speeds close to WiFi.”

What is the relative bandwidth of 3G, 4G and WiFi?

“Using 4G you will expect 30 times faster connection than 3G, depending on coverage. 4G and WiFi have almost the same bandwidth. The difference between them is in range. WiFi is targeted to cover low range networks, while 4G was designed to replace high range mobile networks.”

Does a mobile optimized site or a mobile app take more bandwidth?

“Websites and apps require different bandwidths depending on content they represent. If the content consists of textual data, small images and low quality videos, 3G would be enough. 4G and WiFi mainly means you have no limits on using online services including high-quality videos.

“For instance, if we download a 100Mb file, it will take about 7 minutes on 3G and just 30 seconds on 4G/WiFi.”

For purposes of developing mobile optimized sites and mobile apps, how should a developer consider 3G, 4G and WiFi?

“He or she should be focused on 3G by default, considering the main factor: the content size. The developer should provide options, where possible, making website or application more friendly. By ‘options,’ I mean something like ‘Normal quality,’ ‘High quality,’ confirmations like ‘It may take more time to load. Would you like to continue?’ and so on. Anything that may increase the comfort level due to a slow connection should be available as an option, and it shouldn’t be enabled by default.”

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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