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3g vs wifi

Wi-Fi or 3G for Your Tablet: What's the difference?

Most tablet computers come with 2 options for going online — which one meets your needs?

by Samuel Axon on April 9, 2011


Planning to buy a tablet computer like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, or the Motorola XOOM? The first and most important thing you'll be asked to decide about your new purchase is whether you want a model that connects to both 3G and Wi-Fi wireless networks or a model that only works with Wi-Fi. In theory, tablets are ideal for people who aren't comfortable with regular computers — grandparents, young children, and others — so it's unfortunate that knowledge of these technologies is required for purchase.

That's why we're taking a moment here to explain each type of connectivity and in which circumstances you'll need them. We hope you'll find this information useful when making your purchase. If you have any questions, don't be afraid to share them in the comments.

Wi-Fi: For the home, office, and coffee shop
Wi-Fi networks are what most computers connect to. They are wireless networks with a range of only a few hundred feet; they act as a sort of medium between your computer and (usually) a long, wired connection to your Internet service provider's servers.

Each Wi-Fi network is hosted by a router or group of routers. Routers are small devices that receive and send transmissions with a whole bunch of devices at once. Everything in a house or business connects to the router — either through a wire or wire-free Wi-Fi — and the router connects to the Internet through dial-up, cable, DSL, satellite, or some other Internet infrastructure. It's the heart of a local network, regulating all the data from all the different network-enabled devices around.

As long as you're in range of the router and everything is configured properly, local Wi-Fi connections are very fast, at least when it comes to transmitting data locally. Their speed accessing the Internet at large is dependent on the kind of long-range connection the router has with your Internet service cable provider. For example, old-style dial-up Internet connections are extremely slow, while broadband connections like cable and DSL are quite speedy. There are varying cable and DSL speed packages from most Internet providers, so just because something's connected to Wi-Fi doesn't mean it's going to be faster than a 3G connection. While Wi-Fi connections tend to be faster overall, Wi-Fi networks can be bogged down by more connections than they can handle at once.

When a tablet is Wi-Fi -enabled, that means it has the hardware required to connect to a local Wi-Fi network. But remember that the Wi-Fi network must be connected to the Internet for you to access the web on your Wi-Fi device, so you still have to pay for an Internet provider for cable, DSL, fiber-optic, or some other kind of Internet access.
3g vs wifi

3G: Paying more to surf (almost) anywhere
3G data networks are the same networks most modern mobile phones connect to, and more and more, they're being used by other devices too — like tablets! By the way, "3G" stands for "third generation." This means the current mobile service network is the third major infrastructure deployed by wireless companies; each one has generally been faster than its predecessor.

Unfortunately, 3G wireless networks are relatively new technology. Because of the heavy strain from many users, along with environmental factors like weather and even tall buildings, 3G wireless networks are usually much slower and less reliable than broadband Internet services for your home. They're also much more expensive for companies to operate and maintain, so your usage will be capped, and overage charges may apply if you download or send too much data. But hey, you can use it almost anywhere!

Which tablet do you need?
Typically, 3G-enabled tablets cost at least $100 more than their Wi-Fi-only siblings. You'll also have to pay a monthly fee to use them, and in some cases (but not all) that even involves signing a contract to continue to pay for the service for a period of time.

Every tablet worth buying supports Wi-Fi connections as a base configuration, and most people in developed nations like the United States already have broadband Internet in their homes. If you already have broadband at home and you don't plan to use your tablet much outside of the home or other places that have wireless networks you're permitted to use, you probably don't need or even want 3G. Obviously, home broadband Internet also involves monthly charges and contracts. But if you already have it, going 3G might be redundant if you're not planning on using the tablet out of range.

Still, it's nice to have a device you can use wherever you go. You might have a long train commute, you might spend a lot of time at bars or restaurants that don't offer free Wi-Fi, or your friends might not have Wi-Fi in their homes. If you're expecting to use the device there, 3G can be worth the money. It all depends on where you plan to use your tablet.

Tecca

Content provided by Tecca.com.

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