4G: Everything you need to know

Over the last few years, as mobile users and businesses have slowly started to demand more and more from their devices at work and for their own personal use, there's been a shift from the previously ubiquitous 3G connectivity to the faster, more reliable, 4G.

Thus far, the UK has been slow off the mark in terms of rolling out the service to everyone, with those Kevin Bacon-fronted adverts our only clue that things were changing for a long while. Now EE has had its sole licence for 4G prised from its hands and all the major networks get to have a go.

This comes after a period of time in which, after having to bid in the government's 4G wireless spectrum auctions for a licence, only EE was given permission to provide 4G services using spare 3G spectrum. Competitors were left lagging behind for almost a year while EE carved out its place in the market with the aforementioned Kevin Bacon ads.

Now, licensees include EE, Hutchinson 3G (Three), Telefonica (O2) and Vodafone. EE, however, still has the largest 4G network due to its head start, but other operators are catching up.

Towards the end of 2014, it was reported that 4G speeds in the UK have halved as more people have signed up for the service. This puts the benefits of 4G into question should the previously significant gap between it and 3G speeds start to close.

Additional studies have, however, also claimed that average speeds for 4G are still around double those provided by 3G. In November, it was revealed that Ofcom was planning to sell-off spectrum used by the Ministry of Defence to boost available bandwidth for 4G networks.

In May 2015, Ofcom released details on plans to auction more spectrum for 4G services. However, availablility would be limited in order to future-proof networks against impending mergers. The regulator has asked potential bidders how they think it should release the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum bands.

4G is primed and ready to take over, changing the way we use our devices at work, on the go and at home, so here is our guide to everything you need to know.

How does 4G differ from 3G?

3G, launched back in 2003, has served us well and brought widespread connectivity to everyone and made it possible to be truly mobile as long as you had a phone or tablet at your disposal.

No technology is fault-free, however. The problem with 3G lay in the range of service one could expect from the third generation mobile technology. This could range from around 400Kbps to somewhere near to 4,000Kbps. 3G also has a reputation for being unreliable, with sudden drops in speed and complete outages all too common an occurrence.

There was less consistency than might have been expected and slow data speeds just aren't something most people can accept these days. The tide is changing, with 4G promising to overcome all of the issues we've had with mobile data speeds and coverage.

4G promises internet speeds that are five times faster than was possible with 3G, as well as a significantly reduced likelihood of losing your connection. To put it all into perspective, downloads take just seconds, web pages load instantly and streaming either live TV or services such as Netflix can be done without endless buffering time.

But then there is also more than one kind of 4G available to customers, with standard 4G promising speeds two and a half times faster than Ultrafast 3G and double-speed 4G speeds up to five times faster. Like with 3G before it, there's no particular standard, with what you get seemingly differing from network to network.

Throughout 2014, talk surrounding national roaming plans sparked fears that a 4G rollout would be delayed by up to two years as a result.

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at caroline.preece@futurenet.com.