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Thinking of Buying a 4G Handset for Christmas?

By 7th November 2013No Comments

The increasing speed and reliability of mobile data is gradually encroaching on areas once the sole preserve of fixed data. The cessation of analogue tv broadcasts and subsequent auction of the 800MHz band to mobile networks for use in 4G/LTE (Fourth Generation / Long Term Evolution) services included an obligation on the networks to “provide indoor coverage to 98% of consumers at speeds of 2Mbit/s by 2017”. O2 has stated its intention to meet that requirement by the end of 2015, and other networks have given similar undertakings.

Outdoors, 100% of all motorways receive a 2G (conventional) mobile phone signal from at least one network and 99% receive a signal from all major networks. 3G signals are less available, as are signals of any sort on more minor roads. Not all mobile networks use the same frequency bands, and as a very basic guide:

  • higher frequencies (2.6GHz) have a greater capacity to carry data, allowing faster downloads and more handsets to connect to each mast, ideal for urban areas
  • lower frequencies (800MHz) can carry less data but cover longer distances and have better penetration inside buildings, ideal for remote rural areas
  • mid frequencies (1800MHz) are a good compromise between the two

An ideal mobile network would provide a mixture of high frequencies for fast data in urban locations and an 800MHz signal for access on remote roads/areas.  The current situation is:

  • EE:                   2.6Ghz,1800MHz, 800MHz
  • Vodafone:    2.6Ghz, 800MHz with the possibile addition of 1800MHz
  • 3:                      1800MHz, 800MHz
  • O2:                  800MHz

(O2 will rely on its network of wi-fi hotspots to provide fast data access in cities).
4G/LTE can provide download speeds of up to 40mbps, 15Mbps being typical.  Upload speeds have a maximum of 15Mbps, 5Mbps being typical.  EE has also launched 4GEE Extra, effectively a double-speed connection with a theoretical maximum speed of 60Mbps which can download a film to your smartphone in 3 minutes.  Current coverage for 4GEE Extra can be checked here.  But before you splash out on your first 4G handset, be warned – LTE-A (‘LTE Advanced’) is already on its way