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. It 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 spread to most carriers, 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.
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 apps 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 for many users.
3G speeds are enough for e-mails, 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, using real-time gaming, or downloading movies, music and games, something much quicker is needed. With 4G, users can access voice, data, mobile internet and streamed multimedia content anytime and anywhere 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:
Used for high-mobility communications. This means connections that operate at high speeds, like cars, trains or aeroplanes.
Used for low-mobility communications, such as browsing while walking or sitting.
Speeds of up to 1Gbps are more than enough for any combination of web applications and services. In fact, 4G speeds may even be faster than many residential broadband connections, even through fibre-optic packages.
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, 17 million 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 fulfils this criterion.
What does 4G mean to me?
The main advantage of 4G mobile broadband is how much quicker it is. 4G can reach theoretical download speeds of 300Mbps while 3G only hits a download speed of 42Mbps in theory — meaning real-world usage is likely to be slower.
As it has matured and spread across most mobile providers, 4G has offered other benefits for all consumers.
4G providers have seen a huge spike in use, leading them to offer lower prices and more deals for the consumer.
Cost of services
Before 4G, a video call used to cost up to four times the price of a regular call. MMS messages also cost large amounts to send. Thanks to 4G, users are now paying less and getting faster speeds!
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 now widely available across the UK, this applies to mobiles, too. Instead of having something stored on the device, files can easily be stored online and accessed on demand.