What is the difference between 4G LTE and GPRS?

Over the last four decades, there have been several innovations in the mobile communications industry. GPRS and 4G are both parts of that innovation; however, they are two very different things. GPRS is a technology that belongs to the second generation of mobile networks that came into existence in the 1990s. On the other hand, 4G or fourth generation of mobile networks is enabled by a technology LTE initially launched in 2009. Today, we already have 5G (fifth generation) services in many countries, but let us look at GPRS and 4G definitions to understand the difference more clearly.

4G LTE is the fourth generation of mobile networks that offers high-speed mobile data through the Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology; GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) offers basic mobile data services at much slower speeds and is an enhancement added to the second-generation GSM networks.

GPRS is a basic 2G mobile data service

The first generation of mobile networks was analogue and originated in the early 1980s. When the digital era for mobile communications started in the early 1990s, two leading technologies, GSM and D-AMPS, were introduced to continue mobile network evolution. GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications, and it was the most widely deployed second-generation technology standard in Europe. In the US, the first generation of mobile networks was enabled by AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System), so the most straightforward path to second-generation evolution was introducing a digital version of AMPS or Digital AMPS. GPRS or General Packet Radio Service is a technology enhancement added to the GSM networks to enable mobile internet services through mobile phones. Before GPRS, the GSM networks had limited mobile internet capability enabled by a High-Speed Circuit Switched Data or HSCSD technology. HSCSD required each mobile phone to establish a continuous dedicated connection to the mobile network to access the internet, which was not efficient. GSM networks, therefore, introduced GPRS that can engage network resources from a shared pool of resources temporarily for the duration of a data session. The GPRS networks still exist today, and whenever GSM mobile users are in areas with 2G only coverage, the mobile internet on the phone is enabled by GPRS or EDGE, which is an enhancement to GPRS. The GPRS technology applies to GSM networks only and not the IS-95 or D-AMPS networks. GPRS can enable peak data rates of up to 171.2 kbps in the downlink for downloads.

4G LTE can enable high-speed mobile data

4G stands for the fourth generation of mobile networks, and it is enabled by the LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology, an evolutionary step for GSM and CDMA networks. The second generation of mobile networks started their journey with GSM and D-AMPS; however, after the introduction of IS-95 (Interim Standard 1995) in the mid-1990s, D-AMPS took the back seat leaving GSM and IS-95 to lead the digital network evolution. When fourth-generation came, the aim was to move towards a single global standard to streamline the future network evolution. Today, LTE technology is synonymous with 4G, and both these terms are often used interchangeably. LTE networks can enable peak data rates of up to 300 Mbps in the downlink for downloads. Enhancements to LTE, LTE-Advanced and LTE-Advanced Pro can offer peak data rates of up to 1 Gbps and 3 Gbps, respectively. The average 4G speeds are considerably lower, which you can learn more about in our dedicated post on 4G speeds.


GPRS stands for General Packet Radio Service, and it is a network enhancement introduced in the second generation of mobile networks that adopted the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology. 4G stands for the fourth generation of mobile networks and is enabled by the LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology.

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.

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