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 4G compatible 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's the difference between 3G and 4G?
The difference between 4G and 3G is that 4G means you can do everything 3G can 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.
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 can do all this but smarter and faster.
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 compatible 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.
Compare the latest mobile phones at uSwitch now.
4G vs 3G speeds
One of the principal differences between 3G and 4G 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 connection speed widely available the UK is 60Mbps, which you can get if you're on EE and in a location where it has upgraded its network.
If you're in central London, though, EE can deliver maximum speeds of up to 150Mbps, after it activated CAT6 4G technology in October 2014. Avaialability of the super-fast service is set to be extended next year.
Is my phone 4G ready?
It's quite safe to say that any smartphone you buy today will work on a 3G network but 4G can be a little more complicated.
Before buying your new phone check the specifications to see if it's 4G ready. When you compare handset deals with uSwitch you can scroll down below the table to find the features tab.
You can also compare 4G phones with our comparison table.
Buying a 4G compatible smartphone
Although most new phones are 4G compatible, 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 too.
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.
Is 4G free?
Opting for a 4G tariff may cost you more than a 3G one but it's likely to be more cost effective in the long run because of the perks. For example you will get faster speeds and a stronger connection.