by Al Sacco

4G v LTE v 3G v EDGE: Is Data Speed Really That Important?

Nov 30, 20113 mins
CarriersMobileSmall and Medium Business

Having a bleeding-edge, blazin'-fast smartphone is all fine and good. But what does it really get you, beside significantly less battery life? Cast your vote in our poll to let us know.

Earlier this week, I unlocked an AT&T BlackBerry Bold 9900 smartphone to use with my T-Mobile cellular service. I did this for a number of reasons: The phone number I use most often happens to be on a T-Mobile account; I really like the BlackBerry Bold 9900, and I don’t currently have a T-Mobile-branded 9900; and I wanted to see if some new features in a leaked BlackBerry Bold 9900 OS that are specific to T-Mobile would work on the AT&T device, namely a new Wi-Fi Calling feature for the Bold. (It didn’t work.)


So I unlocked my BlackBerry—most carriers “lock” their devices to their specific networks, but GSM BlackBerrys are easy to “unlock.” (Thanks Steve!) I popped in my T-Mobile SIM, setup my BlackBerry ID and BES service and I was up and running. Happy as a clam…for about three minutes.

As I sat staring at the “EDGE” coverage indicator on my new “4G” AT&T BlackBerry—T-Mobile uses different 3G and HSPA+ frequencies than AT&T, so AT&T-branded 9900s don’t support T-Mobile 3G/HSPA+ and vice versa—I felt the disappointment sink in.

It’s almost 2012, I thought. And here I am using a brand new “4G,” HSPA+ smartphone on EDGE, a 2.5G, or two-and-half generation cellular technology. I suck.

Without 4G, I can’t seamlessly stream high-quality video to my device…which I never do anyway, even with my other 4G devices. And I can’t rapidly download huge files or MP3…which doesn’t really matter much to me, honestly. I can’t upload high-resolution pictures or video clips near instantly—gasp, I actually have to wait a minute or so for large files to upload. And, worst of all, I can’t show up my friends, colleagues and other passersby by claiming the biggest…data speed.

I quickly came to the conclusion, and not for the first time, that though the EDGE coverage indicator is a bit of an eyesore and I like the 4G one better, data speed doesn’t really mean all that much to me. (The only thing I really miss using T-Mobile EDGE is simultaneous voice and data, so I can surf the Web while on a call, etc.) Sure, it’s nice to have a blazing fast LTE connection or speedy HSPA+ cellularcoverage, but it’s fairly rare that I use my device for a purpose that genuinely requires such a connection.

Sure, sometimes using EDGE or 3G requires a bit of patience. But even when I do use a 4G device, I often question whether or not the tradeoff in battery life is worth the extra data transfer speed. Moreover, I’m typically in range of a Wi-Fi network if I’m watching a movie or streaming music etc. on my device, and Wi-Fi isn’t as hard on my device as 4G.

I will say this: When you’re talking tablets or laptops, a 4G data connection can make a very significant difference, since you’re more likely to use these devices for more data intensive purposes. But in this post, I’m talking specifically about smartphones and other handhelds.

What’s your take? Do you need a 4G phone right now? Have you already upgraded your device for access to the fastest data available? Vote in the poll below to let me know. Or drop a comment to get more specific.