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Say no to slow

Get up to speed on 4G coverage near you.

The 4G

Guide to 4G

4G has quickly become the standard way of getting online with your mobile when you're away from a Wi-Fi network, and now pretty much every new handset that is launched is 4G-ready.

If you never really noticed the difference on your new phone, or are looking to upgrade to a handset with 4G and aren't too sure what the deal is, then this is the page for you. Our guide will:

  • Explain what 4G actually is
  • Lay out some of the benefits
  • Help you choose a phone and network
4G guide

What is 4G?


4G just stands for the 'fourth generation' of mobile technology that lets us send and receive data with our phones. 2G technology introduced texting, 3G introduced mobile internet, and 4G made everything loads faster. The niftily named International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R) are the group in charge of telling us just how fast this technology has to be to qualify as 4G. In the future, they’ll set new benchmarks for 5G and 6G when they come along.

4G rolled out over the UK slowly and is now available to a vast majority of the public. However, residents in some remote areas such as the Highlands of Scotland may still struggle to receive 4G coverage.

4G lets you connect to the internet on your smartphone anywhere between two and ten times faster than you could with 3G. This is perfect for streaming videos on YouTube, accessing image-heavy websites, or downloading files in a flash.

4G vs. LTE

When it comes to smartphone technology, a lot of confusing acronyms get thrown around. One you may have come across when looking into 4G is ‘LTE’. So what does LTE mean? Is LTE the same as 4G or something different?

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution. Simply put, it’s the technology companies use to achieve 4G speeds. When the International Telecommunication Union set the minimum speeds networks had to achieve to be classed as providing proper 4G, they were a bit unrealistic. With nobody able to hit these standards, the same governing body decided that companies working with LTE could claim to provide 4G if their service provided a sufficient improvement on 3G. That’s why sometimes you’ll see 4G advertised as 4G LTE.


How fast is 4G?

You'll see plenty of claims that 4G is two or five or ten times as fast as 3G. But what does that actually mean?

Theoretically, 4G can hit 100Mbit/s, but that's just not possible in the real world. Everyday download speeds (how fast you can view or save things) can vary a fair bit from network to network, and from place to place. Therefore, it's always hard to give exact numbers, but 3G speeds typically range from 1.5Mbit/s to 7Mbit/s, whereas 4G typically varies from 10Mbit/s up to 18Mbit/s.

As for upload speeds (how fast you can post a picture), 3G struggles to get past 1.5Mbit/s, whereas 4G will typically run at 3Mbit/s up to around 14Mbit/s on a really good day.

So whatever numbers you look at, the answer is pretty simple: it's fast!

Is 4G more expensive?

It costs nothing more to download a megabyte on 4G than it does on 3G. But 4G is made for tasks that require loads more data.

The early days of 3G mostly meant you could send emails on your Blackberry – something that really doesn't require a lot of data. 4G, on the other hand, is built to handle Facebook, web browsing, YouTube, Spotify, Netflix and all the things that use a lot of data.

So to get the most out of 4G, you'll need a plan that provides plenty of data. A standard 1GB plan will give you:

  • Around two hours of video streaming
  • About seven hours of high-quality audio streaming
  • A good 10,000 web pages-worth of browsing

But it won't give you all of those things every month – it's an either/or situation, so divide your data up wisely.

Of course, you can get affordable contracts with a 5-10GB monthly limit, as well as unlimited data contracts. This is perfect if you want to spend a lot of time streaming while you're away from a Wi-Fi connection. Find out here more about our best data plans.


How do I get 4G?


To use 4G, you'll need a 4G-enabled phone on a network that supports 4G. No surprises there.

All the major networks now offer 4G coverage, with a lot of smaller providers doing deals with larger ones to share their 4G reach. Click the links below to find 4G phones on each network:

  • EE was the first of the big networks to provide 4G speeds and can claim to offer the widest coverage and fastest 4G in the UK
  • Vodafone also offers extensive coverage and have exclusive deals with the likes of Netflix and Spotify to spice up their best deals
  • O2 provides a good level of coverage and advertises huge allowances of 20gb+ if you tend to burn through your data as well as O2 priority moments
  • iD is one of the newest mobile networks but also offers some of the best and cheapest 4G deals out there

If you are happy with your handset but want to enjoy 4G speeds, then SIM-only deals with plenty of data are available – just be sure to check with your network that your current phone is 4G compatible.

Where is 4G available?

4G is now available to around 90% of the UK, though is offered most extensively in England – with some rural areas of Wales and Scotland still receiving mixed coverage. The strength of your 4G signal will also tend to vary depending upon whether you’re out in the sticks or in the middle of a city, with urban areas generally receiving more consistent coverage.

You can check if 4G is available in your area with our 4g Coverage Checker map – it will show you the average speeds across the major networks where you live.


Do I need 4G?


The short answer is that no one really needs 4G – you can do basic online tasks on the move just fine with 3G. But 4G is so much faster and lets you do so much more with your phone that it's become all-but-essential for social media, browsing and streaming.

Fortunately, with the vast majority of phones being 4G-ready and coverage being as extensive as it is, it's not really much of a choice anymore. 4G is here to stay – so embrace it!

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