The main reason to upgrade to a 4G phone is as a result of the improved download speeds, which should theoretically allow you to achieve much more on your smartphone than you would be able to via older 3G networking. Plenty of the hype about 4G revolves around the idea that it is able to significantly improve the video streaming experience for mobile users, which means buffering should be largely eliminated and the quality of the picture should also improve. But in practice does a 4G phone actually have the power to revolutionise mobile movie streaming, or are things a bit more complicated?

Mobile Movie Streaming

4G download speeds can vary like any wireless standard, but reports suggest that current services achieve average data rates of 8-10Mbps, which is several times faster than a typical 3G connection.Some users will be able to go faster still if they are in a location that receives good coverage, with EE boasting that 20Mbps downloads are not unheard of for its customers. This means that, like for like, the average streaming capabilities of a 4G phone should be roughly equivalent to that of a fixed line connection in the UK.

Wi-Fi Showdown

Of course many mobile users with a 3G smartphone will be used to seeking out a Wi-Fi hotspot whenever they want to stream video because of the faster speeds and greater connection consistency that this type of service affords. So when it comes to 4G vs Wi-Fi, which is going to be the best for movie streaming?

A Wi-Fi network’s speed will depend on the capabilities of the landline connection to which it is linked as well as the number of other users who are sharing its signal simultaneously. Public Wi-Fi hotspots can become very busy in peak periods, which would make 4G a much better option, particularly if you are trying to stream during your lunch break or while commuting. Wi-Fi streaming is additionally limited by the range of the hotspots, while 4G is an explicitly wide area connectivity option, which means you can move freely and still get good performance. As 4G coverage improves over the coming year, the number of not-spots in the UK should decrease.

Streaming Service Performance

There are a number of popular video streaming platforms available to smartphone users, so how will these perform if you upgrade to 4G?

Obviously the video quality will vary depending on the app and your location, but BBC iPlayer mobile should be less prone to pauses, which is particularly important because this service is famously designed not to allow pre-buffering of content, instead taking the progressive approach to streaming which makes it far more sensitive to the speed of your connection.

Netflix is a popular platform for mobile movie streaming, which allows customers to watch content effortlessly from their 4G smartphones.

However, the currently available applications do not support high-def and so there is a limit to the quality improvements that you will experience.

But how much data does Netflix use? This question will be relevant if you are going to use 4G streaming to watch a whole video and do not want to consume your entire monthly allowance in a single sitting. It should get through about 3-6 megabytes of usage a minute, which means a typical movie will use up anywhere from 300 to 700MB or more when streaming over 4G. This should not be a problem if you have an unlimited deal, but your provider might end up throttling Netflix content if you stream too regularly.

Hopefully as 4G becomes more widely available and commonly used in the UK, streaming platforms will catch up and let you enjoy true high definition content on compatible smartphones.