The 'fourth generation' of mobile broadband means superfast internet wherever we take our smartphones, tablets and laptops...
Current mobile broadband speeds
Mobile broadband often delivers speeds noticeably slower than most people's home internet connection. Speeds vary a lot depending on the strength of 3G signal you're receiving, but can range anywhere up to 14Mb.
The current 3G networks are being strained by the millions of customers accessing the web from their laptop using a mobile broadband dongle or on their smartphone phone, so average actual download speeds are only around 1Mb.
What is 4G mobile broadband?
There are several wireless technologies being developed around the world for widespread, superfast internet access.
In Britain, the technology moving mobile broadband forward is known as Long Term Evolution (LTE) - also marketed at 4G LTE. 4G is the next generation of mobile broadband, set to take over from 3G. It is capable of delivering mobile broadband speeds similar to - or even faster than - the download speeds we get at home via our fixed line broadband connection.
Using LTE, mobile operator have trialled speeds of 150Mb, however, as with all broadband connections, a variety of factors affect download speeds and actual speeds are more realistically around 15Mb.
The benefits of 4G mobile broadband
It's not just download speeds that have improved with the next generation of mobile broadband. Download allowances have also increased from the meagre limits applied to 3G mobile broadband contracts - 4G download allowances are as much as 20Mb.
LTE technology is far more efficient than the 3G mobile broadband networks currently in place in the UK, meaning that networks won't become clogged up with users as millions of people sign up and log on.
The benefits of 4G include:
- Regular speeds of 15Mb to 30Mb with higher speeds possible
- The improved 4G infrastructure means 4G is more robust and better able to cope with high demand
- The potential for an always-on mobile broadband connection
- Greater efficiency
- It may offer a genuine alternative to your home broadband connection eliminating the need for a land line and associated line rental charges.
The downsides of 4G
Due to the non-existent competition in the market to date, 4G products remain expensive - however as more providers begin to enter the market we can expect to see prices fall.
At present 4G coverage is extremely limited with small proportion of the UK's towns and cities currently boasting a 4G network. So even if customers are paying for a 4G connection, if they find themselves outside of the 4G network area their device will switch back to the 3G network, and they will see connection speeds drop considerably.
Where can I get a 4G connection?
Broadband provider EE (www.EE.co.uk) launched the UK's first 4G connection in 2012. EE had a monopoly on the service for a year while the auction process - in which other providers were able to bid for part of the new spectrum - was co-ordinated. The new spectrum was mostly freed up by switching the nation's television sets from analogue to digital.
In early 2013 the 4G spectrum auction finally took place allowing other providers to enter the market. BT (www.bt.com), O2 (www.O2.co.uk) , Three (www.three.co.uk) and Vodafone (www.vodafone.co.uk) were all winners in the auction and plan to release 4G products soon.