Working out what rugged handheld pda’s have what kind of connection to the mobile network can be fought with unknowns so this article clears up everything you need to know, in layman’s terms what all the different types of mobile network you chips you can opt for.

We blogged about the difference between GPRS, 3G and HSDPA some time ago now and it turned out to be a really popular blog so I wanted to drag the advice into 2013, by adding a little bit about 4G too.

Mobile data can be explained easily using the “2G, 3G & 4G” terms but you’ll see a lot more than this on the spec sheets so below is a quick overview of some of the most important things you need to know about GPRS.

3G in a nutshell

Just to quickly explain 3G comes in 3 broad types:

2G – This used General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and was the first kind of mobile data technology we had.

3G – Superseded GPRS and was a more robust and faster technology

4G – Recently launched, is new technology designed for 100MB per second with models to support data consumption in the year 2013 and beyond.

Your rugged handheld or smartphone will support some or all of these and we go into detail below.

Before we grew legs and left the ponds!

Way back it all started with 2G!  As mobile phones became ever more popular we all started to think of ways we could use our phones like we used our computers, so 2G was born.  2G was pure GPRS, the first of its kind and it was slow.  When launched you were lucky to get the theoretical 40Kbps and I never heard of anyone getting close to the 170Kbps that the last versions of 2G theoretically gave.

You couldn’t take calls and sync data at the same time and you’ll probably not find 2G on anything these days.

Enter 2.5G

2.5G is commonly referred to as “Edge” or Enhanced GPRS, depending on where you’re from or how you talk!  The “E” is key though as this is what you’ll see on your smartphone mobile data icon if you’re in a 2.5G zone.

Edge brought along the ability to take calls whilst syncing data in the background and with better encoding methods it also brought 3-fold improvements in speed with theoretical speeds of 400Kbps.

Even today Edge is still available as an option in many rugged handheld PDA’s because it’s robust, it uses less power than 3G, its cheaper to spec and many applications still only require GPRS speeds.  Indeed in the UK, you will also still regularly find you’re in a 2.5G zone anyway so that’s all you’ll get in terms of speed anyway!

However edge was really a stop gap technology as we all knew 3G was coming.

3G Arrives!

Soon after 2002 and those rather exciting and hugely expensive 3G license auctions, 3G was released and it not only gave us more reliable faster data rates, initially up to about 384kbps but because it was based on a far better and newer technology that allowed truly synchronous voice and data usage as well as supporting far higher future speeds.  With 3G, the web and data tasks that we take for granted today, suddenly became truly usable and an explosion of mobile data usage followed driving improved speeds almost every year 3G existed.

3G Technologies you’ll see – HSDPA, 3.5G, 3.75, 4G and beyond

Even today in 2013 3G is still the most prevalent mobile data technology.  Most of the smartphones we use are running on 3G so lets talk about the types of 3G you’ll find on the spec sheets of rugged PDA’s or smartphones here:

  • 3G – Was the first type of 3G to hit the market.
  • 3.5G (HSDPA) – is still the standard for many Rugged Handhelds.  Running initially at 1.3mbps networks have been slowly upgraded across the UK to run at speeds of up to 7.2mbps.
  • 3.75G (HSPA/HSUPA) - Improved speeds to 14MBps.
  • 3.8G (HSPA) - 22MBps
  • 3.9G (HSPA+) - Theoretically designed to support 80MBps + speeds.

Now which one your device runs needs a quick check of the spec sheet.  However be aware that in the UK, despite the chips in your smartphone being capable of 22MBps, the networks have all largely not been upgraded since the 3.5G updates so we’re all running at theoretical speeds of about 7.2MBPs.

Mobile data needs explode – Enter 4G

in 2012 4G was launched which is again a brand new mobile data technology and designed to support our mobile data consumption habits into the future!  GPRS largely supported a bunch of early adopter users that were happy checking emails on the move with businesses happy to sync small amounts of application updates every few hours.

3G supported the smartphone user explosion, allowing us to share photos, browse maps and browse or use the internet pretty freely but it still thought of mobile data as something we wanted to download.

Today however we are all constantly creating data and we need a more robust, faster and secure technology to allow us to do this.  4G supports 100MBps+ and is designed to support all manner of streaming and heavy data use so not only is watching BBC iPlayer on the move a formality but taking video, editing and then sharing online is also something we will be able to do with 4G.

In fact 4G theoretically now surpasses the fixed fibre option broadband services we buy so we’re now in an age where our smartphones and rugged PDA’s have a faster connection to the internet than our businesses and homes do.  Wow how Star Trek is that!!

We’ll end with the  most common questions we’re asked about 4G

Do I buy a 4G device yet?

The answer to that is complicated but at the end of the day many newer devices already support 4G and will degrade back easily to 3G or even GPRS when they have to so we say if the device has 4G go for it!

if you still need some help then don’t forget that you can get in touch with us at Rugged and Mobile anytime and we’ll only be too happy to help you choose the right device for you and your business.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of RAM, his rants are awesome, his thoughts are whacky and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things simple.