Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a black phone that sat in the hallway. It went ‘ring-ring’ when someone wanted to speak with you. You dialed when you wanted to speak with someone else, and the black phone went ‘ring-ring’ on their end. Alas, that time has come and gone. Today, we have a multitude of ways to connect to or hear from the outside world. Maybe you still have a ‘ring-ring’ phone, but I’d venture to day you don’t ‘dial’ any more…you punch buttons. Fewer and fewer people even have ‘land lines’ (those phones that plug into a phone jack somewhere in the house). Cell phones are becoming the norm.
So far, I’m not confused. So far, I understand that we’ve migrated from ‘ring-ring’ phones to phones which aren’t connected to the wall in one location (cell phones). I’m good with a phone which allows people to reach me, no matter where I am. I didn’t understand how sound traveled down the wires into my ‘ring-ring’ phone…I certainly don’t understand how the sound bounces off of a satellite somewhere and ‘appears’ in my cell phone. Honestly though, I don’t really care. I take how certain things work on faith (you can add to that list electricity and television).
Here’s where things start getting hairy. First, I have my cell phone which works wherever/whenever. Then, my computer decides that it doesn’t want to be tethered to my desk, so it goes wireless. My cell phone becomes ‘more than a phone’ and actually allows me to get e-mail and surf the web from wherever I find myself. Then, I get a Kindle/Nook and it needs to ‘talk’ to the internet as I roam about.
Each time I go to purchase a new device, I have to learn a new lesson in alphabet soup! At the heart of it all is the confusion about whether I need a separate service plan to connect, or if I can connect using what I already have, or if it is a different type of connection than I currently have access to. Whew! Makes me not want to expand my horizons for fear of the ensuing headache (not to mention additional charges).
So, thanks to Rick Broida at PC World, I got a FABULOUS explanation of the difference between 3G and Wi-Fi – both internet access (and, oh yeah, 4G is just like 3G, but faster) in the article aptly titled “What’s the difference between 3G and WiFi“.
Both WiFi and 3G (or 4G) allow you to connect to the internet. These are NOT your traditional cell service (the ability to make calls on your cell).
If you have wireless internet in your house/business, then you have WiFi. You probably have a box somewhere (called a wireless modem or wireless router) which has a little antenna and allows you to access the internet without wires from anywhere in a building.
3G or 4G are, as Rick states, “Internet everywhere”. 3G and 4G use the same cell towers that your phone uses, but access the internet instead of the calling system.
So…if you are buying a new device or gizmo during this holiday season, make sure that you understand the following:
1. Does it access the internet?
2. If it does access the internet, does it do it wirelessly? (most of the time the answer is ‘yes’ these days)
3. If it accesses the internet wirelessly, is it WiFi or 3G/4G connectivity (or both)?
4. If it can access the internet with WiFi, do you need the password for the particular WiFi location(s) where the device is located? (If the answer is ‘no’ to this question, then there are no additional charges even if you’re not around a wireless internet service that you pay for).
5. If it uses 3G/4G, do you need to pay for additional service?
The reason for the last two questions is that SOME devices, like my particular Kindle, do NOT require you to purchase additional wireless services…they just piggyback off of existing WiFi or 3G/4G with NO ADDITIONAL CHARGE. Like my old ‘ring-ring’ phone, I have no idea how/why that works, but it does and I’m thrilled about it because I don’t want to pay any more for additional internet services…I pay too much as it is!
That is NOT the case for iPads, etc. Those actually need you to create an internet connection – either via WiFi (free if its available free at your location, but you need a signon/password to access if the wireless is not available publicly) or additional carrier charges if you choose 3G/4G.
So, before you get all excited about that new ‘toy’ under the tree (iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc.), make sure that you understand which type of connectivity the device needs. Figure out where the device will be used (if you never take it out of your house and your house has WiFi, and the device has WiFi, then all is well, but if you take the device elsewhere, you may be subject to additional internet connection charges/plans). Then, look at the additional costs (if any) of purchasing the internet connectivity. That will help you make the best decision on that ‘perfect gift’!