4G technology allows us download content at superfast speeds and has transformed our handsets into complete entertainment hubs.
4G is so quick that when exploited fully it is can match the fastest fibre-optic home broadband connections in the speed stakes.
What does 4G mean?
The term 4G stands for ‘fourth generation’ and refers to mobile network technology that enables mobile phones to connect to the internet faster than ever before.
In the UK, 4G launched in 2012. Right now, the number of smartphone users who use 4G is dwarfed by its forerunner 3G. However, expect that to change in years to come as 4G contracts fall in price and the reach of 4G networks extends further across the UK.
What does the move to 4G mean for consumers? How is it different to 3G?
The advent of the UK’s first 3G network in 2003 enabled carriers to offer a host of new and exciting services to consumers. These include video calling and wide area wireless voice telephony.
3G also allowed mobiles to let users receive and send emails, get map and SATNAV directions, and download music and videos very quickly on their handsets.
4G means you can do all that but faster and smoother than ever before. Web pages load quicker, you can download content within seconds and streaming video and music is free of buffering.
But it's what's yet to come that's really exciting. Experts predict that 4G is set to be the catalyst for a host of new, entertainment focussed mobile internet services, the like of which would have been unimaginible just a few short years ago.
Mobile entertainment providers are expected to take advantage of this by launching extensive movie and TV download services. These will harness the power of 4G technology to deliver content, such as full length movies in high definition, directly to a 4G mobile phone and streamed in a matter of seconds or downloaded in a matter of minutes.
Faster mobile internet connectivity will also bring an incredibly smooth browsing experience to 4G phones, thus calling time once and all on the days of web pages failing to load at peak usage times.
Finally, the mobile gaming experience is set to be completely transformed, too, with faster connections offering more complex online multiplayer games that make current generation titles look very rudimentary indeed.
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4G vs 3G speeds
One of the principal differences between 4G and 3G models is the speed at which they can download files from the internet. A typical 3G phone can connect to the internet at a maximum speed of up to 21Mbps, whereas a 4G phone can do so at theoretical maximum speeds of 300Mbps.
In practice, right now the fastest 4G speeds available in the UK is 60Mbps, which you can get if you're on EE and in a location where it has upgraded its network.
Buying a 4G smartphone
Although most new phones are compatible with 4G, not every phone supports the technology. In general, all heavily advertised, so-called flagship phones will offer 4G. But it's increasingly the norm on mid-range and even low-end smartphones.
Because you're getting a faster connection and can do more with your handset, 4G contracts are more expensive than 3G. But with competition mounting, downward pressure in prices will eventually mean 4G smartphone contracts that are priced in line with 3G contracts.
Keen to see what 4G phones are out there? Check out our dedicated 4G phones comparison page: 4G deals