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4G mobile broadband

3G technology made high-speed mobile internet access possible for the first time.

Once upon a time, the connection speeds 3G offered were enough to provide basic data and voice services, but as handheld devices and mobiles have evolved so has demand for higher-quality media at better connection speeds.

The result was the development of super-fast 4G mobile broadband technology.

4G is an abbreviation of 'fourth generation communications system', which is also known as 'beyond 3G' or ‘Long Term Evolution’ (LTE) technology and seeks to address the two main limitations of 3G: speed and network congestion.

4G launched in the UK in late 2012 in select locations with the arrival of EE's next-generation network. Since then, 4G services have also arrived from O2, Vodafone and Three, with the result that there's now plenty of choice for anyone in the market for a speedy connection while they're on the go.

Learn more about 4G mobile broadband and compare the latest deals at uSwitch.com's dedicated 4G mobile broadband comparison page.

Speed

The speed of an internet connection needs to keep up with the media and services that the internet offers. With the advent of HD video, music streaming programs and games on mobile devices, headline connection speeds of 7.2Mbps, or even 21Mbps with 3.5G, and data limits of 500MB just aren’t enough.

3G speeds are enough for emails, maps, Facebook, low quality YouTube clips, Skype calls and Twitter. These are low-level applications that are mostly text or low-medium quality audio.

However for streaming HD video, making video calls, downloading movies, music and games, and real-time gaming, something much quicker is needed. 4G will see voice, data, mobile internet and streamed multimedia content being accessed on an anytime, anywhere basis at faster speeds than ever before.

The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) have finally decided on a standard for 4G, and have laid out the peak speeds for the technology as:

100 Mb
for High Mobility communications. This means connections that operate at high speeds, like cars, trains or aeroplanes.

1 Gb
Used for Low Mobility communications, for example surfing while walking or sitting.

Speeds of up to 1Gb will be more than enough for any combination of web applications and services, and will be a faster connection than anything available residentially, even through fibre-optic connections.

Congestion

The UK's 3G networks have long struggled with the amount of users and the volume of data they want to access. The spectral efficiency of a network refers to the total amount of user-traffic it can handle, like lanes on a motorway. Having a high speed limit is all well and good, but with only one lane there will still be congestion at peak times.

  • There are over 70 million mobile connections in the UK, which is 10 million more than our total population.
  • Discounting the very old and very young, that’s roughly two mobile devices for every person in the country.
  • We send hundreds of millions of texts every day.
  • Per month, 17milion of us use our phones to get online.

With this amount of traffic, and with today’s high-end media demands, it’s unsurprising that 3G mobile broadband networks are struggling. The networks need to be able to handle a much higher volume of traffic, and 4G fullfils this criterion.

What does 4G mean to me?

The principal advantage of 4G mobile broadband is how much quicker it is. Choose EE 4G and the headline speed is a massive 80Mbps. That compares to 21Mbps for 3G/3.5G.

In time, 4G users will get a host of benefits beyond speed, however. Right now, the UK's 4G market is at an early stage of development. As it matures, more and more will be offered to the consumer as a reward or enticement. Here's how we expect the 4G market to change in the months and years to come.

Data
4G suppliers will see a huge spike in use, and they will have to follow this with lower prices and more offers for the consumer. Three's pledge to offer 4G for the same price as 3G is evidence that this is already happening.

Cost of services
A video call currently costs up to four times the price of a regular call. MMS messages also cost large amounts to send. This cannot continue under 4G, especially with alternatives like Skype. Prepare to pay less!

The Cloud
More and more applications and resources are being hosted online. It saves money, it saves time, and it saves support. Accessing these from a desktop is easy because speeds are high enough and consistent.

With 4G speeds, this will apply to mobiles as well. Instead of having something stored on the device, everything will be stored online and accessed on demand.

Find out more about mobile broadband dongles and mobile broadband sticks with our uSwitch guides, or compare the best MiFi deals at our dedicated mobile broadband MiFis comparison page.

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