4G Networks - facts and fiction

If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, tablet, or mobile broadband package at the moment you’ve probably come face to face with the choice of 4G.

What's the fuss about 4G?

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Essentially, 4G is the next step in wireless broadband that is set to supersede the now commonplace 3G connections that operate in the airwaves around us. Boasting massively improved speeds for users of mobile phones, internet dongles, and tablets or laptops that offer cellular connectivity, it's set to drastically improve the speed and quality of the connected world we live in. The rollout started in late 2012 with EE and many of the UK's main cities now have access with coverage spilling over into surrounding towns. This has recently grown with O2, Vodafone and Three rolling out their own 4G infrastructure.

How much will 4G cost me?

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A 4G contract is slightly more expensive than a normal phone contract with most phone networks, and with more networks taking up the 4G flag there are a wide range of packages available. Most networks will have packages starting around £20 a month which will include around 500MB-1GB of data, ranging up to £50-£60 for the large data packages allowing up to 20GB a month.

Where is it available?

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4G is available in the major cities on all networks, and other cities have varying levels of coverage based on the network provider. Each provider has a coverage checker available and it may be worth giving these a look before you make a decision on a 4G provider.

The facts and fictions around 4G

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There does seem to be a bit of confusion around 4G in general and we thought it was important in this article to address some of the questions our experts get asked all the time.

How does it compare with my home Wi-Fi Speeds?

The speed of a Wi-Fi connection varies depending on the type of internet connection that the Wi-Fi access point is connected to. Download speeds can be as low as 1Mb/second in some rural areas or as high as 100 Mb/second using services like Virgin Cable or BT Infinity, to name just a couple.

Your speed on 4G will vary depending on the area. On average, consistent speeds of 10MB/s are a common sight in a 4G area. In larger cities such as Manchester and Birmingham this often increases to around 20MB/s and in London speeds have the capability of growing to a whopping 70MB/s!

Will 4G make my phone work faster?

4G is only going to impact your data connection speed. If you're having issues with buffering content on iPlayer or YouTube for example, this will have a big impact but not on the overall speed of your device when it comes to loading apps or playing games.

If I’ve got 4G and I go outside an area do I get cut off?

The mobile networks around us are pretty sophisticated these days, if you're on a 4G contract using these services and go outside of the 4G network coverage area, you’ll simply revert down to a 3G connection to carry on using your data.

Will it improve call quality?

4G does not affect call quality at the moment; it’s all focused on the data side of things. One thing that 4G will make possible in the UK though is HD video calling. This means that the handset's super-quick internet connection can be used instead of the traditional mobile network for carrying the voice traffic which could be much clearer in quality. Services like Skype or Apple's Facetime look and sound great on a fast connection.

Faster text messaging?

4G only affects data at the moment, although it does however mean systems that use data to send messages like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and Viber will all run a lot faster - not that they are particularly slow at the moment anyway!

Do faster speeds mean higher usage?

Absolutely! With allowances as low as 500 MB, a high-speed 4G network connection could easily chew through that package in less than a day with high usage. Be careful if you go for a tariff this low and definitely keep an eye on your data usage. Apps like Carphone Warehouse's Bill Angel will help you keep on top of just how much you've used up and it could pay serious dividends to be vigilant on that front. Newer Android phones have a built in data monitor which can warn you when you hit a certain amount of data transferred, and cut your mobile data off when you reach a second, higher limit.

Can it improve my battery life?

The hardware inside a mobile device that allows a phone to receive a 4G signal is known as 4G chipset. With this technology being relatively new, they're still pretty power hungry and there will no doubt be plenty of further design improvements to come in the future in this area. Couple this with the fact that these 4G chipsets are only available on higher-spec smartphones which tend to come with more power hungry hardware anyway, and you might find yourself running short of battery before the end of the day.

Will speeds drop with more people using it?

As with any mobile system the more people using a service means the more users the total available bandwidth is split between. In short, the more people using a service, the slower it becomes. The whole idea of 4G is to have a whole lot more to share between users but this will no doubt slow down the overall service a little over time depending on how much cash the mobile networks spend on improving their infrastructure to support swathes of new users joining the new service.

How can I change my phone to 4G?

4G is only currently available on handsets with LTE compatibility which is currently limited to the latest range of smartphones. You’ll find that if you're taking a contract with 4G the LTE model will come as standard if buying the two bundled together. If you’re unsure, ask when you’re buying a phone if it 4G capable so you know for future reference.

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