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83% can now access 4G – what is it and who is the best?

A recent study from RootMetrics has found that access to 4G has increased from around 47million in 2015 to 54million people across the four main operators here in the UK at the end of 2016.

Gone are the days where we would use mobile phones just to make calls – mobile internet usage has rocketed in the last few years, and we’re all now expecting a fast and reliable connection to the internet wherever we go.

It’s not just about the geographical coverage area though anymore, it’s about adding capacity onto the network. As our expectations become ever more demanding, with increased use of web-based television/film streaming, more uploads to the web etc. capacity is being eaten up, and fast.

RootMetric’s report placed EE as the best overall mobile provider, coming top in 5 out of 6 categories, and second to Three in Network Reliability. Although EE were the best, the report showed us that Vodafone, Three and O2 are catching up, all improving year on year and closing the gap. This could be drastically changed if the rumoured merger between Three and O2 happens…

$GThat’s great, but what actually is 4G?!

So you’ve more than likely heard of 4G, accepted that it’s a ‘thing’ to do with mobile signal, but never actually found out what it is? Well, to begin with, it’s been around since 2012 and it stands for fourth generation, as it is, you’ve guessed it, the fourth generation of mobile networks, just as 3G was third generation.

4G is around five times faster than 3G, and in theory can provide speeds of 30Mbps, but in reality it’s on average anything between 5Mbps and 15Mbps.

4G is faster than its predecessors (i.e. 3G), because of something called Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing (OFDM). Whilst that phrase means absolutely nothing to most of us, it is, in layman’s terms, a technique used to squeeze more data onto the same amount of radio frequency, and reduces interference and delay (latency).

MIMO (Multiple-input, Multiple-Output) is another technique that improves speeds, using multiple antennas at both the transmitter and the receiver for multiple versions of the same signal to reduce error and improve performance. You can get different configurations such as 2×2 MIMO, common in smartphones/tablets, or 4×4 MIMO for even faster speeds, so your device will also make an impact on the 4G speeds you receive.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that your UK 4G device may not get 4G elsewhere around the world. This is because it operates on different frequencies depending on what country you are in. Providers do tend to pick up 4G across the world, but will charge you extra for the privilege. Read our guide on using your mobile abroad.

What’s next?

Although in its early stages, 5G is most certainly being worked on. No specifications have been formalised or published yet, but it’s a certainty that 5G will be obscenely fast, have a much greater capacity, and will better conserve battery life. Watch this space!

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