Following on from 3G, the faster service of 4G has given phone, tablet and laptop users a faster way to stream, download and browse content online.

Ofcom 4G auction

4G, also known as LTE or Long Term Evolution, is roughly five times faster than 3G, and works on a different frequency.  The frequencies are actually sold at auction by Ofcom, and each network bids for a slice of spectrum pie.

There are three frequency bands, with Three and EE already sharing the middle one (1800MHz), so the bidding process shared out the band at the top (2.6GHz) and the bottom (800MHz).

Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all bid successfully, although the latter two did not go in for the more widespread, brawny 2.6GHz.  BT also stepped in, and has since confirmed it will return to the mobile network industry as a virtual operator using EE.

Benefits of 4G

4G speeds up both downloading and uploading from a mobile connected device, and this actually means any web activity is quicker.  When you open a web page, stream a video clip or check your emails you are downloading information, and with 4G a web page can do this instantly.

Downloading a song takes a few seconds, while a 45-minute album would take less than a minute.  Downloading an HD movie can be done in around 5 minutes, and streaming live TV runs without buffering.

When information is sent the other way, you see similar results; pictures posted onto social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are shared in just a few seconds.

4G coverage

4G is still rolling out, but the original target set by Ofcom was for 4G to reach 95% of the population by the end of 2017, with an eventual target of 98%.  4G has already reached around 70%, so the rollout is well ahead of schedule.

EE runs the largest 4G network, thanks in large part to its significant head start through early adoption of the technology.  However, all the UK networks now operate 4G services, which can be accessed using 4G-ready devices in connected areas of the country.

4G phones and devices

All the flagship and top-end releases from major manufacturers come with the built-in capacity to connect to 4G.  Companies like Samsung, Apple, Sony and LG build their smartphones in direct competition with one another, and having the best kind of mobile internet coverage accessible from a device would come as standard.

Tablets usually have Wi-Fi connectivity, but not always mobile internet, so if you’re looking to buy one and want 4G then check the model.

Many mid-range phones will also have 4G, as the technology is seeing such a rapid rollout, but the budget phones, like candy bar-style handsets and flip-phones, would not have the connectivity.

The idea of those phones is to have something simple and somewhat disposable, so any advanced technology on the phone is likely to be beyond the requirements of a potential purchaser.

4G+, 4.5G and 5G

EE has begun the launch of 4G+, which is its name for the interim successor to 4G, offering speeds of up to 90Mbps.  This is something akin to getting fibre-optic broadband on your smart device, and initial availability has come to parts of London.  EE has stated that by 2018 data consumption will have tripled, and this means the networks must innovate and evolve in order to cope.

Vodafone is offering 4.5G, or through combining its share of the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands.  This provides speeds up to three times as fast as normal 4G, and is currently being rolled out across the country.

5G will be the next major step in mobile telecoms tech; it is expected that, for example, it will provide 1Gbps (1000Mbps) simultaneously to several users in a single office space.  Coverage should be better, with a possible launch date of 2020.

4G deals

A number of online deals will be advertised as ‘4G’, highlighting that both 4G connectivity and a 4G-ready device are part of the offer.  If you’re looking to get connected with 4G, then it should be very well signposted.

4G deals can be available as a pay monthly plan, or you could buy a 4G phone outright and then get a 4G SIM Only plan, which makes for a cheaper monthly cost.