It’s now 2019 and we have the great luxury of having fast 4G data access all around the UK (with some places getting “4G+”). Unfortunately, you’ll occasionally get stuck with 2G data in the form of EDGE or GPRS, typically in rural areas where masts haven’t been upgraded. If you travel to another continent, you might also find that your smartphone isn’t compatible with the foreign 3G and 4G networks. In this case, you will also be stuck with 2G data. This brings me to the main question, is 2G data still usable in 2019? To answer this, let’s look at the capabilities of 2G data and how you can make the most of it.
What is 2G capable of?
2G data takes the form of two different standards, GPRS and EDGE. GPRS was introduced in 2000 and it is indicated by a ‘G’ symbol on Android smartphones or ‘GPRS’ on iPhones. EDGE was introduced in 2003 as an upgrade to GPRS and it’s indicated by an ‘E’ symbol on both Androids and iPhones. If you want to find out more about the data symbols at the top of your sceen, check out this blog by @wsjudd.
As a result of being from the early 00’s, 2G data is very slow indeed. GPRS can go up to 114 Kbps (0.1 Mbps) and EDGE can get as high as 237 Kbps (0.2 Mbps). To put this in perspective, 3G can handle up to 42 Mbps and 4G can go even higher than that. To make matters worse, these maximum speeds can only be achieved under ideal network conditions. In reality, there could be many other people using the same mast, which will have an adverse effect on your data speed. In my tests, I’ve achieved about 140 Kbps connected to EDGE. My local mast also supports 3G and 4G technologies, so not many people will be connected to 2G. As a result, the 2G speed is fairly decent. On masts without 3G and 4G, the internet might not work at all!
How can 2G be used?
Given that 2G can only transmit a few kilobytes of data per second, you’re rather limited in how you use it. Media-rich websites are unlikely to load quickly when you’re connected to GPRS or EDGE, but some browsers will let you disable images which will significantly increase loading times. Some websites have a basic version, such as Facebook which has an extremely lightweight version accessible from this URL: https://mbasic.facebook.com/
Streaming music and videos is out of the question. You’ll experience frequent buffering if it even loads at all. On the other hand, instant messaging apps tend to work quite well. I’ve had great success using Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp over an EDGE connection. Images will take a while to download, sometimes as long as 20 seconds, but plain text usually loads instantly. On the topic of WhatsApp, I’ve also had a WhatsApp voice call over an EDGE connection, although it did break up a few times. Generally, it’s a good idea to make phone calls in the traditional manner if you only have 2G since these don’t use the internet connection.
Making the most of 2G data
When you’re connected to GPRS or EDGE, it’s best to use apps wherever possible. The reason for this is that an app only needs to load the required content, whereas a web browser will need to load the website structure as well as the content. Some apps such as Twitter and WhatsApp allow you to disable automatic image downloading, it’s worth enabling this. Images will take a while to download, so you can save some time by turning this on.
If you need to access websites while connected to GPRS or EDGE, the best way is to use a browser which compresses the website. My personal favourite is Opera Mini which has an ‘extreme’ mode for really slow connections. More specifically, the website passes through the Opera servers and the website data is compressed to a fraction of the original. Loading less data means the website is loaded much quicker. On 2G data, it can make the difference between waiting a minute or waiting 10 seconds.
GPRS and EDGE are somewhat reminiscent of dial-up, but the experience can be a whole lot less painful when you employ the right tactics. Remember that these technologies date back to as early as 2000, so keep your expectations low. Wherever possible, download music and videos on a high-speed network such as WiFi.