Snapchat a bit sluggish? Instagram more Insta-jammed? It could be your network, not your phone, that’s to blame.

To get the full advantages from your smartphone, you need a fast network to support it. At the moment, two types of data network are available, 3G and 4G. You may have also heard about 5G; it’s in the early testing phase, but is still a little while away.


3G was introduced in the late Nineties/early Noughties. It was the first time mobile phones could access the Internet at reasonable speeds and was ideal for e-mails, messaging apps and sharing photos – the sort of things you might have been doing on your iPhone 3G back in 2008.

4G was designed to provide appropriate speeds for the things we do on our smartphones nowadays. HD video, Spotify streams, gaming and on-the-road multitasking are now just some of the demands we place on our handsets and networks.

In ideal conditions, 4G can offer speeds similar to what you’d get on a typical home broadband connection, and can be up to 10 times faster than 3G.

3G, 4G, LTE AND H+

Luckily your phone makes it easy to find out what sort of a network you’re on. Switch on your data and have a look at the signal bars in the top corner. You’ll see a little icon appear beside them.

If you’re on 4G, it’ll say “4G” or possibly “LTE”, which stands for Long Term Evolution, a technology that offers 4G-like speeds.

If you’re on a slower 3G network, it’ll say “3G”, “H” or “H+”. The H’s stand for High Speed Packet Access – you can see why people prefer to say 3G and 4G.


If you have a 4G phone – which most smartphones are these days – but only ever see a H or H+, what can you do to get the best speeds possible? First off, check your network’s coverage map. 4G hasn’t quite extended to all corners of the country yet and you might be in an area where it simply isn’t available yet.

If your network has strong 4G signal in your area, you may need to contact them to enable 4G access on your phone. You may need a new SIM card or to switch to a phone that the network officially supports for 4G.

You should also check that your network actually offers a 4G service. The three main operators – Vodafone, Eir and Three – each have a 4G option. Other operators, who lease network space from these ‘big three,’ might not. At the time of writing, Virgin Mobile is the only other operator currently offering 4G speeds. Operators such as Tesco Mobile do not currently offer a 4G data service.

If you’re on a network that doesn’t offer a 4G option, it might be time to consider switching so you can enjoy the benefits of super high-speed internet in your hands, and get your true money’s worth from your smartphone.