I use a couple programs to use my phones unlimited Internet on my laptop (depending on whether im using windows or ubuntu, the programs have the same performance), and it’s actually the fastest Internet I’ve ever had being from a rural area.

However, it isn’t flawless: sometimes browser pages will take 5 minutes to load while something is downloading at 2Mb/s (which to me is very fast). Also, I’ve noticed that the amount of service I have is largely irrelevant: On the 4G network, I have one bar at the moment and it’s working great. Sometimes web pages will take the same amount of time to load with 3 bars. But, the same can’t be said when the phone switches to a 3G network, sometimes when the service is at one bar the Internet service is terrible and doesn’t really work at all.

I’m asking because I would like to know which elements of “the Internet” can come into play here. I don’t believe it can have anything to do with malware because I’m using Ubuntu at the moment, not saying that they can’t get malware but knowing my browsing habits that seems practically impossible.


There are a large number of factors which inter-relate and can explain your speeds and variances - including -

  1. The number of bars you see on your cellphone is an indication of the amount of signal relative to the amount of noise. Depending on the source of the noise, towers can transmit at a higher power (similar to shouting) to overcome it, and/or the equipment can be sensitive enough to filter out the noise and still get a good signal. (This can be down to the electronic components and/or the encoding mechanisms of the signal. The type of noise can also be relevant).

  2. The signal to noise ratio (ie bars) will affect the maximum throughput

    • however this says nothing about how many people are using the tower - the fewer people, the more available signal can be provided to you). You will likely find that when you are getting good transfers, few others are using the network.
  3. The connection between the cell tower and you is only 1 component making up the speed. The cell tower still needs to connect back to interconnect points, and those to other points on the Internet. Congestion on any of those links can slow things down.

  4. Priority of sevice - when there is limited resources, the celphone company can reduce the amount of resources given per user to handle more users - this can affect both data speeds and voice quality - yes, your cell provider can make your conversation sound better or worse, and even change the quality during a call - which they do depending on network conditions.

  5. When you are downloading at 2mb per second and open a web page, your system is using all the available bandwidth for the download, thus making your web page go slowly - its sharing a limited resource.

  6. When you use 4g, the theoretical maximums you run up against are a lot higher then on 3g - thus when 3g runs low on capacity, the affects are more noticeable - similarly where the signal to noise ratio is low.

  7. Your device will have an IP stack - ie set of low level routines/ drivers which influence how your system will behave to non-ideal Internet conditions - and almost all internet connections are non ideal due to things like latency, jitter (high bursts of data), packet loss etc. The way your stack works will influence the performance of your connection. THE SAME IS TRUE OF ALL NETWORK STACKS between you and the party you are communicating with - ie how each router and the other side handle the issues above.


3G means 'Third generation', and it uses a different (older) technology than 4G (Fourth Generation).

The number of bars is little help with that, compare it to walking versus driving a car - the number of lanes helps a bit, but you just can't walk as fast as you can drive, even if you have four free lanes to walk.

Each of the generations has its inherent limit, and typically they are worlds apart - GRPS (General Radio Package Service), then second generation, then 3G, then 4G.

Aside from that, the rest of the internet and the server you are downloading from can have an effect, but in the ranges you talk about, this is probably your least worry. Yes, facebook.com or whatever you connect to might be a bit slower some days or hours, but not many web sites are slow enough you would see the effect through a 3G connection.

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