3’s 4G network has just gone live this month in a couple of cities, joining O2 and Vodafone who launched a few months earlier at the end of last year.
But do you know what 4G is?
Do you need 4G services?
What are the real speed advantages it offers?
Everything you need to know about 4G broadband is covered in this post; and some things you probably do not need to know.
What Is It?
Before 3G, data speeds on 2G networks were slow. It was not possible to do high intensity activities and it was often impossible to load web pages.
3G technology offered improved speeds ranging between 500Kbps and 2Mbps. The consumer woke up to the potential of live music, videos and even TV on the go.
Enter 4G and mobile broadband has been transformed. This new generation of broadband is truly the next generation. It is a quantum leap forward in terms of what is possible on it.
The official definition from the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) states that 4G is a data technology which is capable of speeds of up to 100Mbps. Speeds, however, do not normally come close to this, and the only definition which all operators seem to agree on is that 4G technology is the natural successor to 3G.
How Different Is 4G From 3G?
Without getting confused by the technical details, the real difference between 3G and 4G is speed. The new technology promises incredibly fast speeds, and, ideally, you should never experience any page load lags and long-time buffering videos. Everything happens in seconds, or it should at least.
4G’s selling point is speed and some claims purport that 4G LTE, one of the flavours of 4G, can achieve download speeds of 150Mbps. That is faster than nearly all fixed broadband connections through fibre optics.
The UK has been late to the 4G party; nonetheless, there are currently four operators with 4G services, with 3 the latest operator to join the race this month. Read more about 4G licensing on Ofcom’s website.
EE opened the 4G party back in October 2012 and currently has the most expansive network in the country, with claims that they are on the way to reaching 98% of the population by the end of 2014.
O2 and Vodafone share base stations and both launched their networks at the end of August 2013. At the time of launch, O2’s network covered London, Bradford, and Leeds, with the goal to roll out coverage to thirteen other cities and towns by the end of 2013; a target which they have met.
Vodafone’s coverage mirrors that of O2. It seems that it is only through joint venture partnerships that companies can compete.
Recent performance tests have put EE on top of the pack (as expected), but O2 and Vodafone are not too far behind either.
You should expect to pay more for the super-fast connection speeds on 4G networks. EE, Vodafone, and O2 offer significantly pricier 4G plans compared to their 3G offerings. On average, you will be paying £5 more per month compared to a similar deal on a 3G plan.
You should be careful when choosing a 4G data plan. Typically, you need a generous data allowance to make the most out of 4G’s incredible speeds.
3 Mobile has come up with a unique 4G smartphone offering where you do not need to pay a penny to upgrade to 4G. If your phone is compatible, you will be automatically upgraded as soon as the company’s 4G network spreads to your locale.
In the near future prices are expected to come down as competition stiffens.
One thing you need to watch out for is the length of your contract. Typically, 4G plans at the moment tie you up on a twenty four month contract, although there are a few twelve month deals too. EE has a shorter one month plan offered for SIM only tablet deals. However, this flexibility comes at a cost. No operator currently offers a Pay As You Go Plan on 4G.
More Speed Means Increased Appetite for Data
Undoubtedly, 4G offers an enhanced browsing experience on mobile devices. This means downloading large files is much speedier, whilst streaming description becomes seamless.
However, this also means that your super-fast connection will use up your data allowance much faster. For instance, streaming a two hour HD movie (approximately 3GB of data) will wipe out your data allowance if you are on the cheapest plans (2GB for Vodafone, 1GB for O2, and 500MB for EE). This was the harsh reality which early 4G users were met with.
That being said, larger data allowances are available, but your data bill could easily skyrocket. For instance, you will have to fork out £61 per month for EE’s 20GB SIM only plan.
3 is trying to differentiate its offering by providing unlimited data allowances at affordable price points. Of course, there is always a catch somewhere and user experiences, as well as some independent tests, indicate that Three’s 4G performance is below par.
The demand for Internet on the go has never been higher and it was only a matter of time before users demanded faster download speeds to seamlessly access their favourite online services. The power of broadband means that we now take activities for granted which just a few years ago were outside the realm of possibility. Technology moves so fast and nowhere faster right now than the smartphone and mobile broadband arenas.
EE was the first to introduce 4G services in the UK. Three other companies have recently followed suit, and although there is still some way to go, the first full year of 4G coverage in the UK has been largely successful; although operators can certainly do better; especially on price.
It is an exciting time to be a consumer of technology.
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