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 provider, 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, we can expect 5G to be widely available in the not-too-distant future.
The average speed of 4G connections in the UK is around 21Mb, according to an OpenSignal report - though it can reach a maximum of over 60Mb on certain networks. Compare that to the relatively slow 6.1Mb average that 3G offers.
4G basically lets you do everything you could do with 3G, but better. 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.
4G is also the clever technology that most mobile broadband devices use - take a look at 4G mobile broadband deals over here if that's more your jam.
4G mobile deals
You aren't short on choice when it comes to mobile deals with 4G. Nearly every network now offers 4G plans - often as standard, in fact. Here are the networks that give you 4G.
EE 4G deals
If you want 4G, you can't do much better than a deal from EE. This network has both the UK's widest 4G coverage and the fastest 4G speeds. Spring for a 4GEE or Max plan, and you can even get it with speeds of up to 60Mb and beyond.
You'll find 4G deals on SIM-only plans, as well as contracts on handsets and even tablets.
Three 4G deals
It may not have the fastest 4G on the market, but Three offers something that you can't get from any other network: unlimited mobile data.
Allowances are very generous indeed from Three, and prices are surprisingly reasonable, even for unlimited plans. Again, you can get a 4G deal on SIM-only, handset, and mobile broadband plans.
Vodafone 4G deals
Vodafone's the place to go if you like lots of choice. It's got a nice big range of handsets and tariffs to pick from… and some extras are available too. Go for a Vodafone Red plan, and you can get a NOW TV, Spotify, or Sky Sports Mobile subscription so you can put that 4G plan to good use - or a trial of Secure Net so you can browse safely.
O2 4G deals
With O2, you can get 4G deals on SIMs, handsets, tablets, and a wide range of mobile broadband gadgets. And taking out a plan gives you access to O2's many perks - like the use of its Wi-Fi hotspots, or priority tickets to gigs.
Other networks that offer 4G deals include…
- BT Mobile - uses EE's network, so coverage is amazing, and extra discounts are available for BT broadband customers
- Giffgaff - all 4G including its 'Always On' data goodybag
- iD Mobile - 4G is available at incredible value
- TPO Mobile - get 4G and give to a good cause every month
- Plusnet Mobile - flexible 30-day SIM plans, and special mates rates if you have Plusnet broadband too
- Virgin Mobile - offers low-price plans that use EE's network
Click through to each network to see its range of offers.
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 7 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
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 generally 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.
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, BT Mobile and Virgin Mobile have the best 4G coverage, covering up to 90% of the population
- Vodafone and TalkTalk 4G covers 85%
- O2 and giffgaff 4G covers 70%
- Three and iD 4G covers just 63%
Bear in mind that these figures are based on the UK population - not by geography.
However, there's no need to panic if you find yourself outside of a 4G zone - you'll automatically connect to 3G instead so you can carry on browsing and downloading, albeit at a slower speed.
You can also make the most of 4G by using a mobile broadband dongle or personal Wi-Fi device. These handy little gadgets let you get online wherever you are. Have a browse over our mobile broadband page and check out the best of what the broadband world has to offer.
Pros and cons of 4G
- It's really fast - more than twice as fast as 3G, 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 towns and cities.
- The older 'generations' are slowly becoming obsolete as more and more of the spectrum is auctioned off - so it's only logical to go for a 4G plan.
- Since everything loads faster, you'll download more data in a shorter span of time - 4G allows things like autoplay on Facebook videos - so you may reach your monthly download limit pretty quickly.
- 4G plans cost a tad more than 3G ones.
- Not everywhere is covered, particularly if you're out in the sticks.
- Outside of a 4G area, your connection will drop to a 3G one… and you'll still be paying for a 4G plan.
Ultimately, when it comes to 3G vs 4G, 4G will pretty much always win. A good rule to follow is new generations of tech are better, and this rule remains true with the battle of 3G and 4G.