4G mobile internet

ByKim Staples

There’s a lot to think about when you’re taking out a new mobile deal. What phone do I want? How many texts am I really going to send each month? And what’s this 4G thing everyone’s talking about?

What is 4G?

4G stands for the 'fourth generation' of mobile communications technology. What that means in layman's terms is this: through your mobile phone carrier, you can access not only calls and texts, but also mobile internet.

1G, the first generation, was analogue; 2G was digital and allowed a tiny bit of web browsing; 3G added proper mobile internet access; and now 4G has full mobile broadband at way faster speeds. And yes, wecanexpect 5G to arrive some time in the future.

The average speed of 4G connections in the UK is 15.1Mb, according to an Ofcom report - though it can reach a maximum of around 30Mb. Compare that to the relatively slow 6.1Mb average that 3G offers.

With a 4G connection on your phone, you can browse the internet, download apps, make voice calls, watch videos, play online games, and even tether your connection to a computer or make your phone a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Best 4G Deals 

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Three EE O2 Vodafone BT Mobile
Unlimited data 4GB data 8GB data 5GB data 15GB data
4G included 4G included 4G included 4G included 4G included
12 month contract 12 month contract 12 month contract 12 month contract 12 month contract
£23.00 a month £19.79 a month £23.80 a month £17.00 a month £21.00 a month
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How do I get 4G?

To get 4G on your mobile, you'll need to do three key things:

1. Get a 4G-capable phone

Your connection starts with your handset. A huge number of smartphones are now set up for 4G, but always check before you buy. Some of our favourites are the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S6.

2. Sign up to a 4G mobile plan

Next, you'll need a mobile plan that lets you connect to the provider's 4G network. Thankfully there's a wide range of plans to choose from - whether you're after a SIM-only deal, or a contract on a handset. Plans that include 4G cost  enerally the same or a bit more than 3G plans.

Remember that with a 4G connection, pages load faster and you can get used to having reliable speedy mobile internet, meaning you may end up using more data and might need a plan with a higher data usage cap.


FreedomPop Virgin Mobile
Minutes 1,225 5,000
Texts 1,250 Unlimited
Data 1.25GB 10GB
Contract length 1 month 1 month
Cost £4.99 per month £23.00 per month
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The UK networks that offer 4G are currently EE, O2, Vodafone, Three, BT, TalkTalk, Giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, and iD.

3. Be in a 4G coverage area

There's no point in shelling out for a 4G plan if you can't even use it. 4G coverage across the country is still limited, especially in rural areas - and while it's generally okay in big towns and cities, even they have the occasional dead zone. Always check your chosen provider's website before you take out a deal with them to make sure their 4G can reach you where you need it.

  • EE and BT Mobile has the best 4G coverage, covering more than 87% of the population
  • Vodafone and TalkTalk 4G covers 57%
  • O2, Giffgaff, and Tesco Mobile 4G covers 51%, though the phone network as a whole covers 99%
  • Three and iD 4G covers just 48%, but both offer excellent unlimited data plans

EE, Vodafone, O2, and Three are all aiming to cover 98% by the end of 2015, so the providers piggybacking on those networks can expect the same coverage too. O2 is the only one of the lot under a regulatory requirement to reach 98% of the indoor population by 2017.

If you find yourself outside of a 4G zone, don't worry - you'll automatically connect to 3G instead so you can carry on browsing and downloading. Although, bear in mind you'll still be paying for the 4G plan.

What's good about 4G?

  • It's really fast compared to 3G - more than twice as fast, in fact.
  • The improved infrastructure in the UK means it's efficient, and can cope well with high demand and lots of users.
  • There's pretty good coverage, especially in big towns and cities, and most networks hope to cover 98% of the population by the end of the year.
  • 4G is more secure than Wi-Fi.
  • The former 'generations' are slowly becoming obsolete as more and more of the spectrum is auctioned off - so it makes sense to go for a 4G plan.

What's bad about 4G?

  • Since things load faster, you'll download more data in a shorter span of time - and 4G allows things like autoplay on Facebook videos - so you may reach your monthly download limit pretty quickly.
  • 4G plans cost more than 3G ones, and a lot more than ones with no data at all.
  • Not everywhere is covered, particularly if you're not in a major town or city.
  • Outside of a 4G area, your connection will drop to a 3G one… and you'll still be paying for a 4G plan.
  • 4G connections aren't always reliable, due to lots of people using it at once. 


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