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Digital Networks on an Android Phone

You pay your cellular provider a handsome fee every month. The fee comes in two chunks. One chunk (the less expensive of the two) is the telephone service. The second chunk is the data service, which is how your Android phone gets on the Internet. This system is the cellular data network.

Several types of cellular data network are available. When your phone uses one, a status icon appears atop the touchscreen, cluing you in to which network the phone is accessing. Here’s the gamut:

  • 4G: The fourth generation of wide-area data networks is comparable in speed to standard Wi-Fi Internet access. It’s fast. It also allows for both data and voice transmission at the same time.

  • 3G: The third generation of wide-area data networks isn’t quite as fast as 4G, but it’s moderately tolerable for surfing the web, watching YouTube videos, and downloading information from the Internet.

  • 1X: The slowest data connection comes in several technical flavors, but they all represent the same thing: the original, slow data network.

Your phone always uses the best network available for its technology. So when you have a 4G phone and a 4G network is within reach, it’s the network the phone uses for Internet communications. Otherwise, the 3G data network is chosen, followed by 1X. Or if you have a 3G phone, it uses the 3G network unless one isn’t available, and then the 1X network is used.

  • The icons representing the network speed vary from phone to phone and between the various cellular providers.

  • When a data network isn’t available, no icon appears on the status bar. In fact, it’s entirely possible for the phone to have no data signal but still be able to make phone calls.

  • The cellular data network icons come in two colors. When they’re blue (or green, on certain phones), the phone can connect with the Internet and with Google services such as Gmail and Maps. When the icons are gray (or white), the Internet connection is available but the phone cannot reach Google services.

  • Accessing the digital cellular network isn’t free. You likely signed up for some sort of subscription plan for a certain quantity of data when you first received your Android phone. When you exceed that quantity, the costs can become prohibitive.

  • The data subscription is based on the quantity of data you send and receive, not on its speed. At 4G speeds, the prepaid threshold can be crossed quickly.

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