EE has recently started rolling out its 4G+ network, and if you guessed that the plus means its faster you’d be right, but there’s more to it than that. Read on for all the details on what it is, how it works, where it’s available, how you can get it and more.
What is 4G+?
4G+ is another name for LTE-A, LTE-Advanced or 4.5G and it’s basically a faster version of 4G. It works through carrier aggregation, which allows 4G phones to receive data from multiple bands in the 4G spectrum.
So while standard 4G only uses one band at a time, 4G+ can combine two bands for increased speeds. In EE’s case it’s the 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands which are being combined.
Is 4G+ the same as EE’s double speed 4G?
No. EE has been offering a service known as double speed 4G in select locations for a while now, but 4G+ is different and better. Double speed 4G doesn’t combine multiple spectrum bands, instead it allows customers to use more MHz from a single band, so while places with standard 4G might allow you to use 2 x 10MHz of 1800MHz spectrum, double speed would allow for 2 x 20MHz of spectrum.
But while it’s faster than standard 4G it’s not as fast as 4G+. Check out the next section for exact speed comparisons.
How fast is it?
4G+ offers peak download speeds of 150Mbps and typical speeds of up to around 90Mbps. That’s far faster than even double speed 4G, which caps out at around 60Mbps, with typical download speeds of around 24-30Mbps.
Standard 4G meanwhile comes in at an average of 12-15Mbps, so 4G+ is up to six times faster. Or to put it another way a 30 minute HD video would take just around 2 minutes to download on 4G+, while it would take around 8 minutes to download with standard 4G.
Of course it’s in a whole other league to 3G, which has average download speeds of around 3Mbps and even HSPA+ tends to be at around 6Mbps.
How much does it cost?
4G+ costs more than standard 4G as you might expect, but it doesn’t actually cost any more than double speed, as all you need is a 4GEE Extra tariff, which also gives you access to double speed.
Prices start at £17.99 per month for 4GB of data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts and there are various other price points, up to a maximum 10GB of data on SIM only, which can be had along with unlimited minutes and texts for £28.99 per month. Grab a new phone as part of the deal and you can get up to 50GB of data.
Does it have any other advantages over standard 4G?
Yes. It also increases network capacity in 4G+ locations, which means that not only will peak speeds be higher but you more consistently get a high speed, even when a lot of people are connecting at once. This is true for all EE customers, even those without a 4G+ compatible plan or handset.
Where is it available?
Currently 4G+ is only available throughout most of greater London, out as far as the M25 and in some cases beyond. Pockets of it can also be found in other areas, including Birmingham, Torquay, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and more, but these areas don't have comprehensive coverage.
How can I get it?
To get 4G+ you’ll need to be in an area which has coverage, which currently limits you to London and a handful of other large towns and cities. Beyond that you also need a 4GEE Extra contract from EE and a 4G+ compatible handset. To be 4G+ compatible it needs to be Cat.6 or above, which currently limits you a little, but many high-end phones launched over the last year or so support it.
This may seem confusing as Cat.4 devices theoretically support speeds of up to 150Mbps, but in real world use they tend to cap out far lower than that at around 60Mbps, while Cat.6 devices (which theoretically support download speeds of up to 300Mbps) can potentially achieve real world speeds of over 150Mbps.
So choices are limited at the moment, but you can expect more Cat.6 enabled handsets to launch in the near future.
Do any other networks have 4G+?
No other UK networks have a service called 4G+, but Vodafone has upgraded its equipment in London, Birmingham and Manchester to allow for the same technology and speeds.
What does the future hold for 4G+?
The network hasn’t confirmed its plans for the future of 4G+, but hopefully and presumably it will continue upgrading its 4G infrastructure across the rest of the UK, to allow 4G+ speeds nationwide.
Other networks are starting to get into the game too, with Vodafone bringing similar speeds to London, Birmingham and Manchester and we expect that it too will continue to expand its LTE-A coverage.
O2 and Three have stayed quiet on the 4G+ front but presumably they’re at least considering it and we wouldn’t be surprised if we see them start to roll out something similar before the end of 2015.
There’s also a good chance that MVNO’s will start to support 4G+ in the near future, particularly those running off the EE or Vodafone network, such as Virgin Mobile.