October 14, 2014

4G – Frequently Asked Questions

4g faq

Most people probably know that 4G is faster than 3G by now, but knowing the exact speeds, let alone the different types of 4G and the various uses for it is another matter entirely. So with that in mind we’ve created a handy guide with simple answers to the most frequently asked questions, along with links to more detailed articles where applicable.

What is the difference between 4G / LTE / LTE Advanced?

4G and LTE are the same thing, it’s just different names for them. 4G stands for ‘fourth generation’, while LTE stands for ‘long term evolution’. So whether you call it 4G or LTE the key thing is that it’s faster than 3G. For more detailed information head on through to our ‘What is 4G?’ guide.

LTE Advanced, or LTE-A as it’s sometimes known is essentially 4.5G. It allows faster speeds than 4G but it’s not commercially available yet in the UK. However EE is trialling it and delivering theoretical speeds of up to 300Mbps.

It’s expected to launch on EE next year, but when it does you may need a new phone to make the most of it. Check out our 4G LTE-A guide for all the details.

How fast are 4G download speeds?

Typical 4G download speeds are 14Mbps, though it can theoretically reach 150Mbps. To put it into perspective typical speeds are around five times faster than 3G. With LTE-A you can get typical speeds of 42Mbps and theoretical limits of around 300Mbps, which is far, far faster still. Find out more in our How Fast is 4G guide.

How fast are 4G upload speeds?

Typical 4G upload speeds are around 8Mbps with a theoretical maximum of around 50Mbps. 3G by comparison has typical speeds of just 0.4Mbps and maximum speeds of 2Mbps, while LTE-A can typically reach download speeds of 30Mbps, with a limit of around 150Mbps. Find out more in our How Fast is 4G guide.

What are the different 4G frequencies?

We’ve produced a full guide to the different 4G frequencies that are used in the UK, but in brief there’s 800MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.6GHz.

The 800MHz frequency is used by EE, O2, Vodafone and Three and is good at travelling over long distances, making it a great fit for rural locations. However it can also pass through walls more easily than the other frequencies, so it plays a role in urban centres too. Its main downside is a low data capacity, so it can’t deal with large amounts of traffic.

The 2.6GHz band is used by EE and Vodafone and it’s shorter range but has a higher data capacity, while the 1.8GHz band, which is used by EE and Three, falls somewhere in the middle.

What is VoLTE?

VoLTE stands for ‘Voice Over LTE’ and you can read up on it in detail with our handy VoLTE  guide, but if you just want a quick rundown it essentially means the ability to make calls over 4G.

This is useful primarily because the sound quality is clearer than a normal call, it can connect calls faster and it allows for a range of Rich Communication Services, such as video voicemail.

Currently it’s not commercially available in the UK, but EE plans to roll it out in 2015 and the other networks are likely to follow.

What is Tethering?

Tethering allows you to share your 4G connection with other devices, such as a laptop or a tablet, essentially using your phone as a router. That can be useful if you’re travelling or somewhere without a Wi-Fi connection.

We’ve got a full Tethering guide to get you up and running but the good news is that most phones support it out of the box and most networks allow for it at no extra cost.

What is 4G mobile broadband?

4G mobile broadband is designed both as an alternative to fixed line broadband and for getting online when away from home, so it’s ideal when at home or work but can also be beneficial when out and about.

Check out our full 4G mobile broadband guide for all the details.

Which networks offer 4G?

EE, O2, Vodafone and Three all offer 4G, though their coverage varies dramatically and EE is way out in front with around 75% population coverage. Check out our EE 4G, Vodafone 4G, O2 4G and Three 4G, network and coverage guides for all the details.

As well as the big four various MVNO’s such as Tesco Mobile and giffgaff also offer 4G and we’ve got coverage guides for them too.

Which phones support 4G?

Not so long ago 4G was a relatively rare feature, but now most smartphones support it, right down to entry level handsets. If you’ve got a recent phone then chances are it supports 4G, especially if it’s a mid to high end device. All the recent flagships such as the Samsung Galaxy S5, iPhone 6 and HTC One M8 support it, but so do many lower end phones such as the Moto G with 4G.

If you’re not sure then you’ll have to check the manufacturer’s specifications, but if it falls into the categories above then in all likelihood it does.

You can also check out our  Best 4G Phones That Money Can Buy article.

Can I get 4G where I live / work?

Quite possibly, though maybe not on every network. The exact areas you can get 4G vary by network and all of the networks are rapidly expanding their coverage, so even if you can’t get it now you’ll likely be able to before long.

To see if there’s coverage in your area head over to our 4G coverage guides for each network or check the coverage on each networks site direct.

Do I need a new SIM card?

When moving to 4G you will probably need a 4G SIM card, however your network should supply you with one and if not you can request one, often free of charge.

Can I use 4G abroad?

If you’re on EE then you can currently use 4G in Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Moldova, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, UAE, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland, though you will have to pay for the privilege and it’s not cheap, with prices starting at £3 for 50MB. No other networks currently allow 4G speeds when abroad.

Can I get 4G on SIM only?

Absolutely. We’ve written a full 4G SIM only guide to who offers what, but in short EE, O2, Vodafone and Three all offer some form of SIM only service, with contracts lasting for either 30 days or 12 months.

What comes after 4G?

After 4G comes 5G, which stands for ‘fifth generation’. The specific technologies haven’t yet been finalised but all the major players are working on it. Currently it’s expected that 5G in whatever form it takes will be available from 2020 and it’s likely to be ludicrously fast, with speeds of up to 10Gbps being talked about.