• What is 4G and which iPhone and iPads can use it?
  • How much faster is 4G than 3G?
  • Check the iPhone 4G coverage in your area
  • How much does it cost to get 4G and who has the best 4G service

4G is the fourth-generation of mobile internet, and when you buy an Apple product that connects to mobile internet you’ll be offered the choice of a 4G or 3G service. But what is 4G and is it worth paying for?

Many of our readers have a host of questions about the new service: Is 4G tangibly any better than 3G? Is 4G worth paying extra for? How much more does 4G cost over 3G? Who has the best 4G service, and so on.All of these are valid questions, so here is our guide to 4G...

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What is 4G

4G is the new cellular data connection (the bit that gives you mobile internet) and it replaces the reasonably well-known 3G. They stand for fourth-generation and third-generation respectively. This 4G video will help explain the new service.

See: 4G (Wikipedia) for more technical information on 4G.

Is 4G any better than 3G?

In the words of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel: “well it’s one better, isn’t it”. 4G is categorically better than 3G: what 4G offers is improved speed. But how much faster is 4G than 3G really? When you start to road test the new service it's not so clear.

Technically 3G offers a theoretical download speed of 100MBPs and 4G offers a theoretical top-speed of 1GBps. So on paper the 4G internet network is 10x faster than the 3G network it wants to replace. However, you will never see those speeds because the speed also depends on the power emitting from the cellular tower (which is limited for safety reasons); your distance from the tower; and how many other people are using same cell phone tower as you.

In Central London you’ll typically see between 5 MBps and 10 MBps using an iPhone on a 3G connection. USwitch.com has a handy map showing reported speeds on different services around the country.

While an iPhone and iPad with a good 3G connection is certainly no slouch, 4G offers an improved throughput.

How fast is 4G?

The speed you’ll get on a 4G iPhone is undoubtedly faster than the 3G counterparts. Speeds of around 65MB are routinely reported on 4G services in central London. Which is certainly nothing to be sniffed at when compared to the regular speeds shown. Two things are worth noting, however. First of all the latest versions of the iPhone have Dual Carrier HSDPA. (DC-HSDPA). This essentially combines two high quality 3G connections into one. So we have seen speeds averaging 20 MBPs on an iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s.

While 65MBps is categorically faster than 20MBps on the iPhone and iPad you won’t notice much difference between the two when doing day-to-day tasks: email, web browsing, running most apps; even online video has maxed out well before that point. Where you might find an improvement with the faster speed is when using cloud services like iCloud, Dropbox and so on. When sharing and syncing larger files the faster data connection will enable you to work faster

Remember that 4G isn’t just faster than 3G, it’s also more reliable. Because the service is more powerful it typically offers a more stable connection.

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How much does a 4G service cost

When 4G first launched in the UK the only provider was the, then new, company EE. EE initially charged a premium price for its 4G service. Because of this 4G has something of a reputation for being high priced. This isn’t necessarily the case though, and pricing has fallen in line. If you have an unlocked iPad you can get the following

Bear in mind that these deals tend to change fairly quickly as the companies react to each other’s pricing strategy. So keep an eye on the various companies.

See: iPhone 5 LTE 4G contract price announced: EE (Everything Everywhere) data contract details

Will I get a 4G connection in my area

The service you get in your area depends largely on which supplier you go with. I started setting its network up first, so it has the widest area of coverage. Vodafone and Three are still rolling out their network, although the situation is rapidly improving.

If you want to see what the coverage is like in your area you can use one of the services online coverage checkers:

4G Coverage Checker

Is 4G worth paying for

It largely depends on your area, but we think 4G is worth paying the extra for. Especially if you’re on the Three network which has rolled it into its current pricing strategy (so you’re not really being asked to pay extra). But it does depend on how much 4G is in your area, if you live or work in an area with a good 4G connection you’ll will benefit from the new service. But if not you’ll end up paying extra just to use the same 3G connection as before.

See: Apple new iPad WiFi+4G UK Review: what's it worth in the UK without 4G LTE?