In 2022 the distinction between fixed broadband and mobile broadband can be a bit blurry because both technologies are capable of addressing the internet needs of customers. With the launch of 5G New Radio (NR) technology in 2019 in some parts of the world, mobile phones and routers can already achieve an average download speed of 150 Mbps to 200 Mbps. But the key benefit of mobile technologies is not just the data rate and latency but also the option for you to take your mobile broadband with you anywhere you want. The challenge can be the variation of data speeds because your mobile operator may not have the latest technologies in all of your desired locations. For example, if you have the latest 5G mobile phone and SIM plan, it doesn’t mean that you will get 5G coverage everywhere you go. As a result, your mobile connection may switch to a lower technology, e.g. 4G LTE, UMTS, CDMA2000 or GPRS, in areas where you don’t have the desired coverage. The purpose of this post is to provide you with a detailed view of the download speeds you get with 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G mobile network technologies for both GSM and CDMA tracks.
The peak download data speed for 2G GSM networks is 384 kbps using the EDGE technology; the peak download speed for 3G UMTS networks on Evolved HSPA (HSPA+) is 42 Mbps; the peak download speed for 4G LTE Advanced Pro networks is 3 Gbps; the peak download speed for 5G NR networks is over 10 Gbps.
It is important to make a distinction between the peak data speeds and the average data speeds. In mobile communications, the download and upload speeds that we talk about are the peak speeds that define the maximum theoretical limits for what a certain cellular technology can deliver. In real-life, the speeds that we normally get are the average speeds which are considerably lower than the peak speeds.
The average download data speed for 2G GSM networks is 30-50 kbps using the EDGE technology; the average speed for 3G UMTS networks on Evolved HSPA (HSPA+) is 5-8 Mbps; the average speed for 4G LTE Advanced networks is 50 -80 Mbps; the average speed for 5G NR networks is 150-200 Mbps.
|Generation||Cellular technology||Average data speed (download)|
|4G||LTE-Advanced Pro||60-100 Mbps|
Peak download data rates for the GSM evolution track
The relevant cellular technology track for the majority of the customers around the world is the GSM track. GSM network evolution track includes the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology for second-generation (2G) services and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System) for third-generation (3G) services. HSCSD, GPRS and EDGE are technologies within the GSM network that enable mobile data. UMTS is capable of enabling mobile data and employs HSPA and Evolved HSPA (HSPA+) enhancements to provide high-speed data. LTE (Long Term Evolution) and New Radio (NR) technologies enable 4G and 5G services for the GSM track.
|Generation||Cellular technology||Peak download data speed|
|4G||LTE-Advanced Pro||3 Gbps|
Peak download data rates for the CDMA evolution track
While GSM and UMTS networks account for the majority of cellular network deployments worldwide, there are some major mobile operators that opted for the CDMA network evolution track. The mobile network technologies in this track are IS-95 and CDMA2000. Both these technologies can support mobile data. IS-95 or Interim Standard 1995 is a second-generation (2G) cellular technology and is commercially known as cdmaOne. The third-generation (3G) technology for this track is CDMA2000. EVolution Data Optimised (EVDO) is an enhancement that was added to CDMA2000 to improve data rates. The fourth-generation (4G) and fifth-generation (5G) technologies for the CDMA track are the same as those for the GSM track.
The peak download data speed for 2G cdmaOne networks is 115 kbps using the IS-95 B technology; the peak download speed for 3G CDMA2000 networks on EVDO Rev B is 14.7 Mbps; the peak download speed for 4G LTE Advanced Pro networks is 3 Gbps; the peak download speed for 5G NR networks is over 10 Gbps.
|Generation||Cellular technology||Peak download data speed|
|2G||IS-95 A||14.4 kbps|
|2G||IS-95 B||115 kbps|
|3G||CDMA2000 (1xRTT)||153 kbps|
|3G||EVDO Rev 0||2.4 Mbps|
|3G||EVDO Rev A||3.1 Mbps|
|3G||EVDO Rev B||14.7 Mbps|
|4G||LTE-Advanced Pro||3 Gbps|
Let us now have a detailed look at the peak and average download and upload speeds we get through the cellular technologies that enable 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. We will cover the technologies and enhancements on the GSM evolution track including HSCSD, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, LTE, LTE Advanced and NR. We will touch upon CDMA2000 and EVDO also for comparison purposes.
HSCSD – High-Speed Circuit Switched Data (2G)
When GSM networks were initially launched, they had an in-built technology called Circuit Switched Data (CSD) to enable mobile internet services through dedicated circuits. That technology was later enhanced through High-Speed Circuit-Switched Data (HSCSD) to deliver peak download data rates of up to 64 kbps. HSCSD is no longer active and has been replaced by the GPRS technology that is its successor. I have written a dedicated post that outlines the difference between HSCSD and GPRS.
GPRS – General Packet Radio Service (2G)
GPRS can enable peak download speeds of up to 171.2 kbps and average download speeds of around 30-50 kbps. It is based on packet-switching and is an efficient data technology that employs shared circuits to send and receive packets of data burst without engaging the network resources permanently.
GPRS or General Packet Radio Service is an enhancement added to the most widely deployed second-generation technology standard GSM. Nowadays, we are used to mostly seeing the 4G symbols (4G, 4G+, LTE or LTE+) on our mobile phone screens, but if you are a GSM customer and end up in a remote location with poor network coverage, you may encounter the G symbol which represents GPRS. You may check out our dedicated post on the difference between GPRS and LTE if you are curious.
EDGE – Enhanced Data for Global Evolution (2G)
EDGE or Enhanced Data for Global Evolution is an enhancement that followed GPRS. EDGE can offer a maximum download speed of up to 384 kbps, but you can expect an average download speed of around 130 to 200 kbps.
At the time of GPRS introduction, HSCSD was a cheaper deployment option for mobile operators for enabling mobile data and therefore it continued to exist and evolve even after the introduction of the GPRS technology. As a result, EDGE provided data rate improvements for both GPRS and HSCSD. The part of EDGE that improves GPRS data rates is called E-GPRS or Enhanced GPRS. When you see the E symbol on your mobile phone screen, you are being served by the EGPRS technology within EDGE. EDGE was launched between GPRS and 3G UMTS and is often referred to as 2.75G. Today, EDGE also plays a key role in the Cellular Internet of Things (CIoT) where the data-rate requirement is low.
UMTS – Univeral Mobile Telecommunication System (3G)
UMTS networks can offer peak download speeds of up to 2 Mbps, but the average download speed is around 384 kbps. For comparison, the peak download speed for the CDMA-based 3G network, CDMA2000, is 153 kbps.
UMTS or Universal Mobile Telecommunication System is a Wideband CDMA technology that enables the third generation (3G) of mobile networks. It provides the 3G migration path for the GSM networks and supports all the associated enhancements including GPRS and EDGE in terms of Inter Radio Access Technology (IRAT) handovers. I have written a detailed post on UMTS networks that goes into the details of channel bandwidth and frequency bands. If your mobile operator uses CDMA2000 for 3G, then you may find useful information in our dedicated post on CDMA vs GSM.
HSPA – High Speed Packet Access (3G)
HSPA is shown on a mobile screen as “H” and offers a peak download speed of up to 14.4 Mbps and a peak upload speed of up to 5.76 Mbps. In real life, the average download speed of HSPA is around or under 5 Mbps.
HSPA or High-Speed Packet Access was introduced in the 3G UMTS networks to boost mobile data speeds. HSPA is a combination of two separate technologies HSDPA – High-Speed Downlink Packet Access and HSUPA-High Speed Uplink Packet Access. HSDPA is for downlink and responsible for download speeds, whereas HSUPA is for uplink and responsible for upload speeds. HSPA can provide decent data speeds for your phone and can also work as a mobile hotspot through your phone or dongle. On the CDMA side, the equivalent of HSPA is EVDO – EVolution Data Optimized. EVDO Rev B can offer peak download speeds of up to 14.7 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 5.4 Mbps.
HSPA+ – Evolved high Speed Packet Access (3G)
The next step after HSPA is Evolved High-Speed Packet Access, abbreviated as HSPA+. On the mobile phone screens, HSPA+ can be seen as “H+”. It uses the frequency spectrum more efficiently compared to HSPA, which allows it to offer high data rates.
HSPA+ can enable peak download speeds of up to 42 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 11.5 Mbps. As far as the real-life speeds are concerned, HSPA+ can offer average download speeds of around 5 to 8 Mbps and average upload speeds of around 3 Mbps.
LTE – Long Term Evolution (4G)
LTE or Long Term Evolution is a fourth-generation (4G) technology standard for both UMTS and CDMA2000. LTE can enable peak download speeds of up to 300 Mbps and peak upload speeds of up to 75 Mbps. The average download speed of LTE is around 15 to 20 Mbps.
LTE is one of the most popular cellular technology standards and has a few different flavours including LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro. In order to benefit from the high data speeds of LTE, your mobile phone device must support the latest enhancements. This is where the LTE device categories come in which you can learn more about this 3GPP dedicated page on LTE UE categories. Basically, the higher the device (UE = User Equipment) category, the better speed you can expect as long as you are on LTE Advanced.
LTE Advanced – Long Term Evolution Advanced (4G)
With LTE-Advanced, you can get peak data rates of up to 1 Gbps in the downlink, which goes up to 3 Gbps with LTE Advanced Pro. When you are connected to LTE Advanced or LTE-Advanced Pro network, you can expect an average download speed of 50-80 Mbps.
LTE Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro are enhancements added to the original 4G LTE networks. LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro can be seen on the mobile phone screen as 4G+ or LTE+. With newer devices, i.e. higher device (UE) categories, the average speeds with LTE Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro can be around 150 Mbps also. Factors like the distance between the phone user and the base station, and obstacles like buildings, trees, mountains, thick walls etc., can all negatively impact the achievable data speeds. Have a look at our dedicated post on the average 4G LTE data speeds which is based on speed tests carried out in the UK.
NR – New Radio (5G)
5G or fifth generation of mobile networks is enabled by the New Radio (NR) technology. 5G NR can offer peak download speeds of up to 10 Gbps; however, the average download speeds are in the range of 150 to 200 Mbps at the time of writing.
There are currently two deployment models for 5G including the non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) models. Non-standalone 5G is the most common 5G network deployment at the moment, which relies on 4G and 5G networks both to offer 5G. Have a look at our dedicated on average 5G speeds to find out what to expect in real life 5G networks today.
|Technology||Peak download speed||Average download speed|
|GPRS||171.2 kbps||30-50 kbps|
|EDGE||384 kbps||130-200 kbps|
|UMTS||2 Mbps||384 kbps|
|HSPA||14.4 Mbps||5 Mbps|
|HSPA+||42 Mbps||5-8 Mbps|
|LTE||300 Mbps||15-20 Mbps|
|LTE+||1-3 Gbps||50-80 Mbps|
|5G||10 Gbps||150-200 Mbps|
Here are some helpful downloads
Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:
Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.
Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.