4G: Everything you need to know

With 4G being rapidly rolled out across the UK, we take a look at the potential benefits and problems that come with it

LaunchedNetworksSpectrumTariffsCoverage
EEOct 20124G LTEDouble-speed 4G LTE

LTE-A

800MHz1800MHz

2600MHz

From 23.99pm220 towns/cities
VodafoneAug 20134G LTE800MHz2600MHzFrom 26pm233 towns/cities
O2Aug 20134G LTE800MHzFrom 18pm27 towns/cities
ThreeDec 20134G LTE800MHz1800MHzNo extra cost46 towns/cities

EE

When Orange and T-Mobile merged to create EE (or Everything Everywhere) in October 2010, this heralded the start of the company's plans to make 4G accessible for all, and its rollout of the technology began in earnest in September 2012.

The head start has meant that EE's 4G connectivity is currently available in more than 100 towns and cities across the UK, making it the most widespread and thus the most attractive to early adopters. It also has the most 4G spectrum, with access to 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2.6GHz. This makes it seem like not just the best option for now, but also for the future as the technology evolves.

4G with EE gives users consistently great speeds and good indoor and long-range coverage. It is also the only company offering double-speed 4G LTE, with LTE-A 20 times faster than standard 3G being trialed in London's Tech City.

EE has also promised that 300Mbps 4G could be available in early 2015, with the service first being tested in Tech City and Wembley Stadium.

As of the beginning of January 2015, EE's 4G customer base had reached 7.7 million subscribers in the UK, adding 5.7 million in 2014.

The company has also continued to offer 4G to more areas of the country, investing in rural coverage and dedicating 1.5 billion in the expansion between now and 2017, for which EE has set itself the target of bringing connectivity to more than 99 per cent of the population across 90 per cent of the UK.

In February, BT made a bid to acquire EE for 12.5 billion. The combined group plans to sell a full range of services to its customer base. This could mean better 4G deals for BT Broadband customers.

The acquisition has seen calls by rival operators on BT/EE to give up some of its spectrum as part of the deal. The deal is currently being looked at by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Vodafone

Vodafone and O2 are both hot on the heels of market leaders EE, launching their 4G networks on the same day differing significantly from each other in terms of spectrum and coverage.

Vodafone has the edge, with 2.6GHz offered as well as 800MHz as well as coverage that's almost in line with EE's. Vodafone has also been careful to keep its pricing competitive, with lots of extras such as entry-level tariffs and additional data allowance included in various deals.

The company has also launched Sure Signal Premium for business use, which gives users access to its 4G network to ensure high-speed, reliable connections at all times. This is designed to boost internet in places where Wi-Fi isn't up to scratch, helping businesses to maintain productivity.

As of May 2015, Vodafone had three million 4G users in the UK and covered 71 per cent of the population.

O2

O2's 4G offering is currently quite limited. It has coverage in the majority of big UK cities, but that leaves the rest of the country with huge blind spots, but the relatively low price range keeps it in the game against its competitors.

In order to entice customers away from the presently-superior alternatives, O2 offered seductive deals such as a 27 per month O2 Refresh airtime contract with 5GB of data instead of 3GB if they signed up before the end of February 2014.

There was also the issue of the iPhone 5 having not been compatible with O2's 4G network a significant spanner in the works only overcome by the offer of an early upgrade deal for customers who purchased theirs within a certain time frame.

Last November, it was announced that TalkTalk had signed a deal with O2 to use its network over Vodafone's, expanding its 4G offering to customers.

Currently, more than five million customers of O2 have signed up to a 4G tariff. Around 68 per cent of the country has outdoor 4G coverage from O2, with the network reaching almost 500 UK towns and cities.

Three

Three was the second network to be licensed for 4G after purchasing leftover 3G bandwidth from EE, but the catch was that part of the deal meant they were actually the last of the four to actually launch a 4G service.

Launching with coverage for only four cities, it added 42 more in 2014 and has confirmed another 16 for 2015, carving out a place for its 4G network despite its absence at the start of the race. The biggest draw for consumers, however, is the offer of free 4G for customers - the only network to do so.

In December 2014, the mobile provider announced that a third of its UK customers (3.1 million) were using its 4G service, despite the late start and relatively limited availability (48 per cent of UK).

"The addition of low frequency spectrum is just one part of our plans to expand Three's coverage and bring our network to more people in more places in 2015," said Three's CEO Dave Dyson.

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