4G broadband comes in a number of different forms: data to your mobile, personal hotspot mobile broadband devices, and these days you can even get 4G broadband for your home. Each of these types has a different application and you'll need to know what it is you intend to do with it if you're to select the right one.
Lucky for you, you're in exactly the right place to help you first to understand what sort of 4G broadband you need, and then how to pick the right deal.
4G simply stands for fourth generation. If you count 1G as mobile phones using only voice calling, 2G adds texting, and 3G adds internet access, 4G is the generation that added speed. So, 'fast' internet access via a mobile network, essentially.
In terms of 4G broadband, you can access it in a number of different ways. There are four main types. All involve a 4G SIM card set up with a specific network. They are:
Take a look at the different types of 4G broadband above. Does one of these technologies sound like it solves your problem? Chances are one of them does. But there are some downsides to 4G broadband you may want to consider before cancelling your home broadband connection and relying on it entirely.
Just like fixed-line home broadband, 4G broadband isn't the same everywhere. Some places it's fast, others it's slow, there's everything in between, and of course there are still a lot of homes around the UK where a 4G signal won't be strong enough indoors to rely on 100% of the time.
Then there's the fact that while fixed-line broadband speeds continue to get faster, 4G has already topped out, with the best average speeds not offering much over standard ADSL (non-fibre) broadband. If you want to go quicker over the airwaves you're going to have to plump for 5G broadband and depending where you live you may be waiting a long time for that. Here are the three reasons you might consider 4G broadband.
There are actually only four mobile networks in the UK that will afford you a 4G data signal. These are known as MNOs or Mobile Network Operators, because they own and run their own separate networks, including masts, cabling, data centres and everything else. All other providers are known as MVNOs of Mobile 'Virtual' Network Operators. Virtual because although classed as their own network, they rent capacity from one of the four MNOs. This is often called 'piggybacking'.
These four networks are: Three, Vodafone, EE and O2. All of them provide 4G home broadband, MiFi devices, dongles, and of course mobile phone and data SIMs. In addition there are one or two providers that also dabble in multiple 4G broadband solutions – see the 'providers' section further down. Here are the four MNOs and how they compare on speed and coverage, from fastest to slowest. All four providers offer over 99% UK coverage by population.
According to Opensignal, 4G download speeds on the EE network average 39Mbps. This puts EE's 4G speeds verging on what is offered by entry-level fibre broadband packages. It is the fastest of the four MNO providers.
According to Opensignal, 4G download speeds on the Vodafone network average 21Mbps. This puts Vodafone's 4G speeds verging a little faster than the best ADSL can offer, but around 10Mbps below the average you might expect with an entry-level fibre broadband deal. It is the second-fastest of the four MNO providers.
According to Opensignal, 4G download speeds on the Three network average 19.3Mbps. This puts Three's 4G speeds around the top end of what you would expect to get from an ADSL broadband package. It is the third-fastest of the four MNO providers.
Sticking to providers who offer an expanded range of 4G broadband products – not just 4G SIMs, but also MiFi, dongles and/or home 4G broadband – the list is actually relatively short. Here's who they are and a brief description of what they offer.
What you need will depend on the type of 4G broadband that is best suited to your purposes.
Yes, and indeed it does if you choose to get a 4G home broadband deal. However, 4G speeds aren't rising and 4G can be less reliable and more prone to changes in weather as well as your geographic location.
Unlikely. Even as 5G broadband is now here, even that is unlikely to supercede fixed-line home broadband entirely. We predict a future where the two technologies sit alongside and complement one another, rather than one technology replacing the other.
Theoretically, 4G broadband can manage download speeds of up to 350Mbps, but this literally never happens out in the real world. The best average 4G speed measured is from EE, with an average nationwide 4G download speed of 28.99Mbps.
No. There are plenty of conspiracy theories flying around about the health risks associated with 3G, 4G and 5G mobile signals, but zero evidence of any health risk to human beings beyond perhaps staring at your phone while walking and falling down a manhole.
It delivers speeds averaging 25Mbps to most locations in the UK. It's less reliable than fixed-line broadband with the networks suffering more frequent outages as well as being more susceptible to interruptions from adverse weather, but ultimately broadband is broadband.