4G explained as mobile phone giants prepare to battle for customers over ultrafast services

Britain’s mobile providers O2 and Vodafone are going to launch ultrafast 4G services at the end of the month.

Experts predict 4G will change the way we use mobile phones and computer tablets for ever, with speeds at least five times faster than 3G.

Virtually overnight many people’s phones will be faster than their home internet, making it quicker to load websites, download music and films, and stream content live from the net, with less buffering – the annoying delay as your device catches up.

Ernest Doku, technology expert at the price comparison website uSwitch.com, said: “A lot of people don’t get why they need a faster service until they start using 4G.

“Use it and you realise how quickly web pages can be brought up.

“Even data or image-rich pages, such as newspapers, can be displayed almost instantly.

“Only then do you realise how slow 3G was in comparison. 4G is awesome to use on the go and it will free-up a bottleneck which has held back some of this technology up to now.

“You will be able to use your smartphone for so much more, including a lot more movie streaming services.”

EE – formed from the merger of Orange and T-Mobile – has become the country’s largest operator and has enjoyed the 4G market to itself since last October.

It already has nearly 680,000 4G customers and is expected to hit its target of one million by the end of 2013, with time to spare.

All four big operators, and BT, have splashed out more than £2.3billion between them buying 4G licences from the Government.

Although the outlay is a big boost to the Treasury’s coffers, it’s way less than the massive £22.5billion that operators shelled out on licences for 3G, which was rolled out in 2002.

The Government has been criticised for not raking in at least a billion more in the 4G deals. But all most phone customers care about is how much the new service will cost them.

And cash-hungry phone companies are going all out to persuade you to buy their 4G services.

EE have launched 4G services in 11 cities, with double the basic speed now available in 15 cities – using a highly effective ad campaign starring Hollywood star Kevin Bacon.

The company says it is on course to hit 100 towns and cities by the end of August, covering 60% of the population, and has pledged to reach 98% by the end of next year.

Rivals O2 and Vodafone both go live with their 4G services on the same day – August 29. Vodafone is starting with one city, London, and will roll-out to 12 more cities by 2014.

The British phone giant has promised to get to 98% indoor coverage by 2015. O2 has chosen to launch in three cities – London, Leeds and Bradford – before adding a further 10 cities by the end of the year. Like Vodafone, it says it will have 98% indoor coverage within two years.

But comparing the operators is not straightforward as they have different pricing structures.

Choices include whether to get just a SIM card and then buy your own network-compatible phone, or sign-up for a contract that includes a handset.

Then there is the data allowance – normally quoted in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB) – which determines how much you can use the internet for a set monthly price.

EE’s prices start at £21 a month for a SIM-only plan, with a 500MB limit.

Vodafone starts at £26 a month for a SIM-only option but with a higher data allowance – 2GB, unlimited for the first three months – plus a choice of either Sky Sports or music streaming service Spotify.

O2’s cheapest deal is also £26 a month for a SIM-only package, with a 1GB data allowance plus a music service and other extras thrown in.

The new 4G services will eat up data so if you want to use your smartphone to its full potential you might want to go for a higher limit deal.

Three plans to launch 4G between October and December, promising prices will be the same as for 3G.

A spokesman said: “When we switch on our 4G network well over a million of our customers will already have a 4G device, so they will get automatic and hassle-free access in 4G areas with no need to change plans or SIM cards.”

Ernest Doku added: “Looking at the respective packages, there is certainly much more than simply the monthly cost to consider when making the decision and – as we’ve already seen – the networks are sure to fight tooth and nail to lure customers to 4G.”

He added: “If you’re ready to make the leap to 4G, make sure you look first.

“Think about the speeds, extras and coverage you’ll get with each network but also make sure you get the right plan for you.

“With all 4G plans, including unlimited minutes and texts, it comes down to how data-hungry you are.

“Look at current data use, but bear in mind the potential for doing more browsing with superfast speeds.

“The cheapest plan may cost you more if you go over your allowance every month, so take some time to do your homework before signing up.”

Jargon Buster

Q: What is 4G?

A: Short for fourth generation. Follows on from third generation (3G) and second generation (2G) technology.

Q: I’ve seen the term LTE, what does that mean?

A: Long Term Evolution. It’s the technical name for 4G but you might see it when your phone is connected, depending on the device.

Q: Will my current 3G handset work on 4G?

A Most older handsets won’t but the majority of the latest smartphones will.

Q: I’ve heard of megabits and megabytes, but what do they actually mean?

A: They might sound similar but are very different. Megabit – or Mb – denotes the speed of the connection and is often given as Mbps, or megabits per second.

A megabyte is a unit of data, the size of the file, web page or music track. To confuse things even more, there are also gigabytes, or GB, which is about 1,000 times the size of a megabyte.

Q: How much do I need?

A: It depends what you use your phone for. A typical 3G customer uses between 500MB and 1GB of data a month but the faster speed with 4G mean you could use more. As a rough guide, 500MB is equivalent to 33 hours of web surfing, downloading 50 to 100 songs, or downloading or streaming a two- hour movie from the net.

Q: I only use my phone for calls and texting. Do I need 4G?

A: Probably not at the moment

Source: The Mirror

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