/ Technology

Is 4G worth it?


It’s hard to move without being bombarded with adverts promoting Britain’s 4G phone networks. But is this new service all it’s cracked up to be? Our survey suggests that EE customers are convinced…

It’s hardly surprising that Kevin Bacon’s constantly on the TV, preaching the seemingly endless benefits that 4G has to offer. After all, EE and the other mobile providers have spent billions developing their networks and so are desperate to claw back their investment by persuading us to sign up for pricey deals.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom estimates that 4G download speeds are around five to seven times those available through the 3G networks and says it should give you a browsing experience comparable to your home broadband service. With 4G, your phone can open web pages almost instantaneously, download apps and songs in seconds, and stream videos without any annoying buffering.

Prices and coverage

This all sounds appealing, but it’s expensive. Prices have come down since it first launched, but cheapest Sim-only deals still start at £21 per month and if you want a package with a free phone, you’ll have to spend at least £26 a month.

4G coverage is also pretty patchy. EE has been offering it since autumn 2012 and its network covers 117 towns and cities across the UK, but O2 and Vodafone’s networks are still only available in a handful of major cities. Tony Malone isn’t holding out hope:

EE’s 4G rated by its customers

Despite that, 4G is proving popular. EE now has more than one million customers using the faster data service, and Vodafone has attracted 100,000 in the seven weeks since it launched.

And a year after it first arrived, EE customers seem convinced. In a special Which? survey we asked 300 of them what they thought. The results were overwhelmingly positive.

68% told us they were satisfied and 63% would recommend it to a friend. In contrast, just 12% said that they wouldn’t recommend switching to a 4G deal. That’s a pretty resounding recommendation, despite the premium price. Rowell told us on Twitter that’s he’s impressed:

Should you sign up?

Deciding whether you should take out a 4G deal will depend on how you use your phone (and whether it’s actually available in your area). If you only use the internet occasionally, perhaps just checking Facebook or your emails, then you won’t really see the benefits.

The prices may have come down, and some deals are similarly priced to their 3G equivalents, but it’s hard to justify spending over £20 per month if you don’t use your phone very often.

However, if you regularly stream or download content, then you’ll really benefit from the faster speeds. And independent testing confirms that it really is faster – EE’s average 4G speed in London was an impressive 29.6Mbps when Rootmetrics investigated it in September this year.

If you’re a 4G user then tell us what you think in the comments below. And if you’re not convinced by all it has to offer, tell us why.


The networks have existing capacity problems on their 3G spectrum which causes customers to experience slow 3G speeds. On the other hand, 4G delivers much greater capacity, allowing many times more customers within the spectrum. The networks should be enabling as many customers as possible for 4G rather than creating disincentives through higher charges. This would alleviate capacity in the congested 3G spectrum for those who do not have 4G-capable phones. If there is to be any price difference between 3G and 4G users, those using 4G technology should be charged less because they use an uncongested spectrum with lower per-customer operating costs for the networks. Three sensibly proposes to charge the same for 4G as it does for 3G. Other networks are surcharging for 4G only because the more stupid consumers are willing to pay more for an increased speed which makes little difference on a mobile phone. 4G is more about increased capacity than increased speed, because if the 3G spectrum was not congested, there would be no noticeable difference in speed between 3G and 4G.

The networks got this all wrong. In order to solve their capacity issues and to offer a premium product, what they should have done is give 4G to everyone at no extra charge, but cap speeds at the maximum theoretical 3G speed for those who don’t pay a premium. This is what happens in other countries, but not in Rip-Off Britain.

Peter Morgan says:
22 October 2013

> which makes little difference on a mobile phone.

Much depends what you use your phone for, and whether your contract allows for tethering. I expect some people in future could use their mobile (acting as a wi-fi hotspot) to provide internet for a number of devices, whether they are using a laptop, a games console, a tablet, and might even “scrap” regular broadband service and their landline.

However, it’s unlikely they’d do this on networks other than Three (which offers unlimited data and tethering for the modest sum of £15 {though you’d need a suitable phone}). Even on 3G I sometimes use over 2 GB in a day. I’ve set my mobile to warn me if I exceed 75 GB a month.

As things stand, some mobiles are capable of 21 Mbps or 42 Mbps. I don’t know what the highest speeds supported by Three are on 3G, but it might mean some won’t even need to switch to a 4G phone, just use a ‘faster’ 3G one picked up on Ebay or as a refurbished model from the network.

I suspect that as people find they use 4G, they will come to resent the relatively high charges from most networks. I can think of few people who will be willing to pay up to £75 for an allowance of 50 GB/month when Three is offering ‘unlimited’ for only 20% of that figure, unless the person cannot get Three signals where they live/work.

While the Which? survey found a very positive response, you can only have interviewed those who are “early adopters” and I suspect they are also mostly under 35, in well paid jobs, and who might be considered “trend setters” along with their peers.

(Sorry, no disrespect intended, but in the past they might have been called ‘yuppies’, because those were the ones who went for the latest gizmo at almost any cost.)

If prices go up again in future years, I know who to blame… the Government, for their massive increase in fees for using the radio spectrum, which will hit the networks, and later hit us customers.

I am fed-up with mobile broadband speed, or lack of it. A fast connection and tethering is interesting, or will be when the cost is more affordable.

I have a 4g micro sim from EE on my ipad mini . It is as fast as my super fast home broadband when at its best but speeds can drop, even in London where I live, so if you are trying to watch tv or youtube or whatever it can be annoying. I have 5gb of Data per month and you don’t need to watch very much for that to be eaten up and it costs 15.98 per month. Getting more data on top of that is very expensive. However, I recently got a a 4 g ready phone from Three and can use that as a mobile hotspot. When Three start up their 4g service in Dec 2013 I will probably cancel the (monthly rolling ) contract with EE and just tether the ipad to my phone when I need it. All in all I would say that it has been fun to try out 4g on the ipad but it has really been a luxury and I doubt I would have tied myself to a long contract. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone on a tight budget. Unless you are absolutely desperate to be able to stream tv progs or youtube videos whilst you are on the bus there are much more cost effective ways to have entertainment on the go, eg download what you want to watch or listen to using your unlimited home broadband and then just delete it after you have watched it. I think you have to ask yourself just how likely you are to really need to watch stuff when you are out and about to the extent that you need everything to be available for streaming or downloading on demand.

I do use Spotify when out and about and prefer to stream from it as , although you can download tracks for offline playing , that uses a lot of space on a gadget. I find that streaming music on 4 g is more seamless than on 3G – though actually not by such a huge margin. Compared to streaming video, music streaming is relatively low on data use.

In a couple of years’ time 4g will be the norm and prices will come down – for most people it makes sense to wait. However, Three’s 4g unlimited looks likely to take off for people who use a lot of data on the go. I for one will be interested to see how it performs.

In overall terms I think that people just really need to think what they might want to use 4g for. Do you really need the ability, at high cost, to stream or download stuff – particularly video – on the go? Probably not.

The iPad mini doesn’t take a micro-SIM. Although all iPads preceding the iPad mini and iPad Air took micro-SIMs, the iPad mini and iPad Air both take nano-SIMs.

Maybe a micro-SIM that has been cut down to size?

i have just upgraded to 4g, from 3g, with a change from iPhone 3 to 5 … 4g is MEGA quick, where it is available, even quicker than my wifi at home 🙂

Anne Pringle says:
26 October 2013

Where I live there isn’t even 3G what hope of ever getting 4G!

Mikhail says:
29 November 2013

4G is amazing, now mobile phone companies should abandon 2G, GPRS, 3G, 3G+, dc-hsdpa and ONLY concentrate on 4G. Sooner the better.

Anne Mc says:
17 January 2014

I have an EE 4G pay as you go sim in an iPad Air. I opted for the pay as you go because I have WiFi at home and at work, so only need it once or twice a week when I am out and about and wanted to keep the cost down. I have been pleasantly surprised with how fast it is and how little of the allowance it seems to use. Having checked the 4G coverage in my area and found that one elderly relative I visit weekly was in an area where 4G was only supposed to work outdoors, I was very pleased to find that I get a good 4G signal indoors.

Peter says:
17 January 2014

> how little of the allowance it seems to use.

Just me being nosy, but out of interest, what data allowance did you purchase and for how much?

Also, if it expires in 30 days (most PAYG options seem to use similar restrictions), then I trust you will ‘use up’ at least 75% of what you’re allowed, else it becomes quite expensive for small amounts of data, I’d guess.

Three PAYG credit doesn’t ‘expire’, nor does Asda, but of course, if one buys a “bundle” of texts, minutes and/or data, then that expires in 30 days. For anyone using PAYG, probably worth sending a quick text once a month if only to ensure they don’t consider your SIM to be lost or dead, then think your number is “dormant” and eventually, cancel it (so you’ve not only lost use of the number for contact but also any credit). Worth mentioning to any old neighbours keeping a mobile ‘for emergencies’ and rarely making any calls…

Have just moved my number from Asda (on Vodafone) to the new Asda service (on EE) and they included 100 MB of data (+ 2000 texts, + 100 minutes). I regularly use 1500 – 2000 MB a day, so I could use the 100 MB in an hour but not the 2000 texts 🙂

Luckily my contract with Three gives unlimited data – when I eventually buy a 4G mobile, I will pay no more on Three. It should mean that the other networks might bring down prices or increase the allowance given for users of 4G. I know not everyone will be a heavy user and the 4G connection will just mean a page loads very fast, but for those who want to stream video, or just check on something from TV, like the news, the fairly low data limits + high prices are quite a disincentive, I think.

Graham Langford says:
17 June 2017

I have put EE 4G into 3 rural homes that have classic rural BT broadband <2Mb, and they have been a huge success. In the home I live in which was served by a Tooway satellite we now have faster speeds (up to 70Mb) and just as reliable.

I live in the rural New Forest where our land line broadband speed is 2mbps if you are lucky. Over the past twelve months it has been possible to get up 30 mbps by plugging an iPhone into the computer but there is a limit of 25GB per month which costs around £20pm on a 12month contract. If I go over the limit then the cost of extra data is astronomical. So we can get pretty good broadband at a price but it has to be rationed.
I see Vodafone are now advertising a dongle providing 50GB per month at a cost of £30 pm on a 24 month contract. That might be enough for everything but streaming and gaming at a tolerable price.