What is 4G?

It's new generation technology but how does it differ from 3G?

4G is the fourth generation of wireless mobile technology and is the fastest, most advanced system commercially available.

Although 4G was first rolled out in the UK five years ago, it's likely to remain the highest standard for mobile technology for some years to come, as 5G is quite far from global release.

4G was initially available on EE (then Everything Everywhere) only, but became available to O2 and Vodafone customers 10 months later. It's now available across virtually all UK mobile networks.

What's the difference between 3G and 4G?

4G and 3G are different in a number of ways, but the one consumers are most likely to notice is the difference in speed.

Under the rules of the UN’s International Telecommunication Union, which sets the standards for global use of the radio spectrum, 3G mobile networks must be able to support a data transfer rate of at least 200 Kbits/sec, althoughmost modern 3G networks now support several mbits/sec.

4G, on the other hand, must support 100 Mbits/sec data transfer for fast-moving connections, such as those from trains or cars and 1 Gbits/sec for slow-moving or stationary objects, like pedestrians.

Is there a difference between 4G and LTE?

The terminology regarding 4G and LTE can be confusing, not least because of the way LTE is marketed.

Even though it's sometimes marketed as 4G LTE, LTE is in fact a predecessor of 4G, and can offer up to 300 Mbits/sec data transfer speeds. LTE Advanced, however, is the same as 4G.

Which networks offer 4G in the UK?

In the UK, the four biggest networks – O2, EE, Three and Vodafone – all offer 4G contracts using their own networks. Virgin Mobile, TalkTalk and others also offer 4G contracts, although the network infrastructure will be operated by one of the previously mentioned providers.

Can I get 4G on my phone?

Most of the smartphones released since 2014 – such as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus through to the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge – support 4G. This year’s flagship phones will almost certainly offer 4G as well, with more and more mid-range phones supporting it as well as time goes on.

4G coverage in the UK

Most mobile networks now offer 4G, either through their own networks or using that of one of the bigger suppliers.

Network coverage tends to be measured by population, rather than geography, and by this measure EE has the best 4G coverage at 97%, followed by Vodafone at 88%, O2 at 78% and Three at 65%, according to 4G.co.uk.

Other providers' coverage will depend on which network's infrastructure they use. For example, Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile both use O2's network, so also reach 78% of the population. TalkTalk, meanwhile, uses Vodafone's infrastructure, so comes in at 88%.

There's also, of course, the question of reliability. O2 customers have 4G signal 55.97% of the time, according to OpenSignal, while Vodafone, EE and Three come in at 57.21%, 60.6% and 39.77% of the time respectively. Should a 4G-enabled device fail to get 4G signal, it will fall back on older technologies like 3G and Edge if they are available, so users should still be able to use mobile data most of the time, although it may be slow.