Understanding Cellular Data Networks

3G refers to the third‑generation cellular data networks that are now considered the baseline–that is, the slowest–for such networks.

4G , confusingly, refers broadly to a range of cellular network types, including pseudo‑4G data networks such as HSPA (high‑speed packet access) and HSPA+ that are really based on the older 3G standard.

LTE , or long‑term evolution, is, for now at least, the “true” standard for 4G cellular data connectivity and offers the best performance of these network types.


Prior to this release, you could connect to such networks using third‑party software, which was generally acquired from the wireless carrier or device maker that provided the connectivity, perhaps through a USB‑based add‑on peripheral or internal SIM card interface in a laptop or other device.




A SIM (subscriber identity module) card is a small integrated circuit on a plastic card that is used to authenticate your device, and thus you, the wireless subscriber, to the cellular data network. These cards are used in smartphones, tablets, and modern PCs, and while they come in various sizes, they are functionally identical.


But now, in Windows 8, this capability is just built‑in. And that integration into the OS isn’t just a convenience. In addition to providing the functionality that used to require third‑party software installation, the built‑in cellular data connectivity that’s available in Windows 8 is also more intelligent. It will use your Wi‑Fi or other network connectivity whenever possible, switching off of cellular as frequently as possible in order to save you money. That’s because cellular data is notoriously expensive and almost always metered, with a set monthly or per‑use allotment of data.

Put simply, Windows 8 treats cellular data just like your smartphone does, neatly bridging the connectivity gap between those small and highly portable devices and the monolithic PCs of the past.


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