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The Difference Between 3G and 4G VOIP Calls

|  4 min
In this article

VoIP has become dominant in enterprise telephony due to its low costs, use of modern infrastructure and incredible flexibility. While VoIP platforms allow users from any location to take advantage of enterprise VoIP numbers, previous generations of mobile data network have not provided enough stability to deliver reasonable 4G VoIP calls quality.

With 4G becoming the new standard, however, this is changing. While 3G networks offered enough theoretical bandwidth, other issues ranging from latency to architecture, often made 3G VoIP calls exercises in sheer frustration, 4G networks offer improved bandwidth, stability, and connectivity, to make VoIP over 4G viable.

But what has changed between 3G and 4G to cause this and what does VoIP calling over 4G offer, as opposed to simply placing a mobile call?

What are the Differences Between 3G and 4G?

As you may know, the ‘G’ in 3G and 4G stands for ‘generation’; simply, the iteration of mobile data network. 3G was considered to be Mobile Broadband, offering an average of 5.9 Mbits per second download, according to OFCOM.

Compared with most broadband, however, this simply doesn’t stack up. 4G, on the other hand, is delivering speeds higher than the UK average broadband speed: nearly 15 Mbits per second download and a speed greater than 2 Mbits 97 percent of the time.

More relevant to VoIP calling is the upload speed: 3G networks averaged 1.6 Mbits, delivering over 2 Mbits only 30 percent of the time. 4G, in contrast, delivers 13.6 Mbits on average, with speeds greater than 2 Mbits almost 94 percent of the time – more than enough for consistent VoIP calls.

Importantly, the latency (i.e. the time for a packet of data to travel from the user to the server) on 4G is below 0.1 second almost 99 percent of the time. This may seem like a trivial delay, but during a voice conversation even a small delay can cause frustration.

A major reason for this increase which renders VoIP far more usable, is a fundamental change in architecture: from circuit to packet switching. Circuit switching means that once you connect, you have a fixed logical ‘circuit’ with bandwidth dedicated to you. This may seem desirable, but in practice, it means that if you are allocated less bandwidth than you need, you are stuck with that for the duration. Other individuals on the network not creating traffic still have a fixed allocation assigned, rapidly using up available resources.

4G uses packet switching instead, as with the rest of the IP communication infrastructure. This means that data from all users travels in the same pipeline and is allocated as it comes through. There is the potential for delays, but the infrastructure is only used when there is data flowing through it, instead of being reserved for individuals even when unused.

Call Quality on 4G VoIP

These technical changes mean that VoIP calls on 4G are not only possible, but should be largely indistinguishable from VoIP calls made on a physical network.

In fact, VoIP over 4G actually offers higher call quality than standard mobile calling. Mobile calling compresses voice to about 8 Kbps, while VoIP calls can use up to 64 Kbps with a professional provider such as IDT. Instead of the ‘tinny’ voice typical of mobile calls, clients called from VoIP on 4G will hear you clearly.

Cutting Edge Telephony on 4G

Enterprise VoIP systems offer far more than just telephone calling. They feature CRM integration, video conferencing and often much more, referred to as ‘Rich Communication Services’ or ‘Unified Communication Platforms.’

While 3G might grant you easy access to email and the occasional file, 4G can offer you full access to your enterprise telephony systems, allowing you to take advantage of video calls natively and to access any unified systems your business provides.

The difference, therefore, between 3G and 4G VoIP calling is significant. 3G VoIP calling was difficult to recommend: the latency was high enough to be noticeable and the lack of bandwidth often meant greatly reduced call quality. You could make a video call, at least in theory, but not in any realistically useful sense.

4G, on the other hand, delivers real Mobile Broadband: low latency and high bandwidth, allowing you to take advantage of any enterprise VoIP features made available to you, as though you were connected directly to the network.

VoIP over 4G allows employees to work flexibly, connecting from anywhere they have 4G network coverage as though they were sitting at their desks. This has a positive impact upon work/life balance; it empowers employers and employees to increase flexible working opportunities since, even when restricted to a mobile device, an employee will have access to the same communication resources no matter where they choose to work. Without doubt, VoIP over 4G allows unified communications platforms to reach their full potential.

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