How Does 4G Work & What is it? 4G Explained in Simple Words

By: Jake Mellor
Updated: October 5, 2021
4G connected on laptop

The rise of 4G technology allows users to enjoy the features and perks of WiFi on the go. It has become an essential part of our everyday life in the UK. While you may be using 4G in your personal life and business, there might still have some confusion about what 4G is.

If you are confused about 4G technology or mobile broadband in general, here’s everything you need to learn about what it is, how it works, and how fast it is.

What Is 4G?

First things first, if you wonder what ‘G’ stands for in 4G, it means mobile technology generation of network speed and coverage. 

Each generation demands you to get a new phone and the network to make upgrades. The first two generations were analogue (1G) and digital (2g) cell phones. Then, there’s the launch of mobile internet and video call (3G) using your mobile phone.

Finally, there is the fourth generation of mobile technology, following on from 2G and 3G. 4G makes it faster to surf the web using your mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. 

That’s why 4G is suitable for services that require more capacity, such as browsing social media, video streaming, and mapping.

Typically, the download speed of a 4G network can be five to seven times faster than a 3G network. This means a file taking 30 minutes to download on a 3G phone can be downloaded in only 6 minutes using 4G.

What is the difference between 4G and 4G LTE?

You probably have heard about LTE and wonder how it differs from 4G. Although these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably,  they are not the same thing.

LTE, short for Long Term Evolution, is also known as 4G LTE. While it is a type of 4G technology, it is slower than 4G but faster than 3G. Technically, 4G LTE is not 4G.

 In fact, most networks use the term ‘4G LTE’ in their advertising because it sounds better than 4G. 4G LTE may be a robust version, but it still doesn’t reach the speeds of 4G.

If you want to take full advantage of 4G technology, you need to have a mobile phone or device with 4G support, and not just LTE. LTE devices released before the deployment of 4G technology need to be upgraded because they are not built to handle the new technology.

How does 4G work?

Through high-speed download and upload packets, 4G technology offers people access to high internet speeds using their mobile devices and laptops. It makes use of a radio system with masts that broadcast 4G signals across the country.

If you have 4G-enabled devices, you can communicate to the mast, which relays the data from the net directly to your devices and vice versa. That’s the short answer to the question, “how does 4G work?”

How fast is 4G?

When compared to 3G networks, 4G is very fast. It provides real-world download and upload speeds that are significantly higher than what 3G networks can provide. Additionally, some people even prefer 4G networks over home WiFi (wireless internet connection) networks.

How many Mbps is 4G?

On average, standard 4G networks offer download speeds around 14 Mbps, five times faster than 3G. 4G can even reach as high as 150 Mbps, allowing users to download massive files in minutes or seconds rather than hours using a 3G network.

When it comes to uploading, 4G speeds are 8 Mbps on average. Theoretically, it can reach as high as 50 Mbps, which is a hundred times faster than the 0.5 Mbps of 3G.

What are the advantages of 4G?

The deployment of 4G networks paved the way for the extensive use of mobile devices nowadays. Here are some of the advantages of using a 4G network:

  • Low Latency – Latency is the time it takes to transfer data from the source to the destination. 4G networks offer lower latency than their predecessors, and it’s crucial when used in real-time interactions such as video calls and online games. This allows dispersed users to collaborate more seamlessly as if they’re just in the same office.
  • Connection stability – Another advantage of 4G networks is that they provide a more stable and clearer internet connection for voice and video calls. This makes it easier for businesses to make a transition to an internet-based telephone system.
  • Ease of setup – Another advantage of 4G networks, especially for companies, is their ease and speed of setup. Setting up a 4G network in a new location only takes a few hours, while set up may take days or weeks for a wired connection.
  • More freedom – Many industries benefit from using the 4G network because it gives users more freedom to stay connected to the net with fewer restrictions.
  • Hard to match – Compared to other types of technology, 4G network is hard to match in terms of speed, reliability, and flexibility.

Are there any disadvantages to 4G?

4G networks provide a fast service more reliably than 3G, but it also has some disadvantages. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest disadvantages to 4G.

  • New devices - Consumers need to purchase new devices that are 4G-enabled. It may be hard to implement because of the additional cost.
  • Battery consumption – Devices using a 4G network consume a lot of battery life. They use data faster, which causes the battery to become hot during prolonged use. It also causes the battery to drain very quickly. You need to charge more often for more battery power to stay connected online for a longer period of time.
  • Problems for areas with no coverage – Users need to use 3G or WiFi connection in areas with no 4G network coverage. This problem can be resolved when the network carrier expand their coverage to include more areas.

Does 4G ever get congested?

A study about 4G networks found that during the busiest times of the day, the UK is among the many European countries where the download speeds can fall below 20 Mbps. Among the seventy-seven countries, the UK ranks 35th, having 4G speeds between 19.7 to 24.9 Mbps. 

In the UK, users are most active at 5 in the afternoon, and the 4G network can get congested during this time.

Should I get 4G? What does it mean for me?

4G is absolute heaven if you love video streaming and surfing the web. If you’ve wondered, “how does 4G work?” then you likely may benefit from a 4G contract. 

It makes a big difference if you connect your device to a 4G network and transfer large files. You only need to watch for your data allowance because it’s very easy and quick to use up data with 4G.

If you only use your phone for voice calls, there is no need for 4G. However, if you are currently using 3G and have been frustrated with the service, it’s time to switch to 4G. Just make sure your device is 4G-enabled and your area has 4G coverage to maximize its use.

Which networks offer 4G in the UK?

Many providers offer 4G throughout the 12 regions of the UK. And among these providers, EE continues to lead, winning outright in overall speed and availability.

  • EE – It offers the fastest and widest 4G coverage in the UK. The company has the fasted median speed of 58.8 Mbps – the fastest in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
  • Three – Another major provider of 4G networks in the UK is Three Mobile Network. It scores well regarding coverage, roaming, data limits, business, and tethering. It is one of the widest-ranging networks in the UK, covering 91% of its population. It has an average 4G download speed of 22.2 Mbps and a 4G latency of 48.3 ms.
  • Vodafone – Vodafone is among the best mobile networks in the UK with strong 4G coverage and speeds. According to RootMetrics’ data, it ranked 2nd in terms of overall network speed and performance.
  • O2 – Although O2 may not be the biggest provider in the UK, it is still the second-largest mobile network operator providing almost 99% combined 3G and 4G population coverage. It becomes a better option with its slightly lower prices. If you live in rural areas or remotely urban locations, you probably won’t have access to the O2 4G network.
  • Tesco Mobile – EE remains the best 4G network in the UK in terms of wide coverage and speed. However, if you want lower prices and a more flexible entry point, it’s worth considering Tesco Mobile. Data shows a 97% customer satisfaction with Tesco Mobile’s overall service.
  • iD Mobile – iD Mobile is a good value network that doesn’t offer many extras. But they keep their prices low with a decent range of coverage. In terms of cost, it provides the cheapest plans in the UK.
  • GiffGaff Mobile – GiffGaff Mobile is a virtual provider that uses the O2 network’s infrastructure. While GiffGaff Mobile and O2 Mobile run on the same signal, they are still different networks. GiffGaff Mobile is only an online-based company, and they don’t have any physical stores.
  • Talkmobile – Talkmobile uses the same signal as Vodafone, and it suits anyone after an affordable plan with a small amount of data. Because it uses the same network as Vodafone, consumers are assured of a good signal for the relatively low price they’re paying.
  • Sky Mobile – Sky Mobile is another virtual provider that uses the O2 network. It is worth considering if you are already a Sky TV customer because of their special offers.