4G is a type of communications technology. It stands for 'fourth generation', and it’s the successor to 3G, which is what mobile phones, tablets and wireless dongles currently use to access the internet and transfer data.

There’s a big speed increase with 4G – at about 12-15 Mbps, it’s up to five times faster than 3G. This means web pages appear on the screen faster, you can download apps, music and movies more quickly, and video calls are smoother.

Eventually 4G will reach more areas than 3G, meaning more people will be able to access superfast mobile internet, including those in rural areas.

Do I really need 4G?

With 4G, everyday activities like browsing the internet and sending and receiving emails on a mobile phone or tablet are much quicker.

But the most significant difference is with features that use more data.

With 4G you can stream videos without waiting for the next sequence to load (buffering), providing more stable access to services like BBC iPlayer and YouTube. You’ll also be able to download HD movies within minutes, while mapping services like Google Maps will load much faster.

Faster speeds will also create a smoother experience with cloud services that require a constant internet connection, such as BT Cloud and Microsoft Office 365. Video chat services like Facetime will also work more smoothly.

If you primarily use your phone for making calls and sending texts, however, then it’s probably not worth opting for a 4G tariff.

Will 4G work all around the country?

In 2012, communications regulator Ofcom auctioned off the UK’s 4G spectrum (airwaves). During the auction, Ofcom stipulated there must be 98% coverage across the whole of the UK, so no matter where you are you should eventually be able to get 4G.

To see if you can get BT’s 4G, head to the 4G coverage checker and enter your postcode or the name of your town. It will then tell you how well served you are by 4G, 3G and 2G services.

Will rural areas get 4G?

One of the most appealing things about 4G is that it will finally bring fast internet to rural areas that may have previously experienced slower speeds.

Rural coverage will ramp up over the next 12 months. Remote areas will benefit from 4G speeds of 8-12 Mbps, bringing superfast internet to remote homes and businesses.

How do I get 4G?

In order to get 4G, you need a 4G-compatible device and access to a 4G network.

Many new handsets from all the major manufacturers such as Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, Apple and LG include 4G antennas, as do most of the latest tablets. However, the majority of older and cheaper handsets only support 3G – so check online or in-store.

The next step is to get a 4G SIM. BT offers a range of SIM-only deals, starting at just £5 a month. You can see them all here.

Is it expensive?

Not at all. In fact, BT offers 4G at no extra cost, unlike some rival networks who charge a premium.

When considering a 4G tariff it's important to consider how much data you need. You will use more data using a 4G network than a 3G network – especially if you take advantage of faster speeds to download apps and stream video.

To avoid going over your data allowance – and avoid being charged extra – make sure you get a plan with more data than your current tariff.

BT’s plans start at just £5 a month. That will give you 500MB of data – which is enough for basic browsing and streaming the odd video clip – 200 minutes and unlimited text messages. It’s perfect if you want to dip your toe in the 4G waters.

The next step up offers 2GB of data, 500 minutes and unlimited texts, and costs £12 a month. An absolute bargain, especially if you’ll be downloading plenty of apps, videos and games.

The final option is for power users – it gives you a whopping 20GB of data, plus unlimited texts and minutes, and all for just £20 a month. Ideal if you use your phone a lot and don’t want to worry about going over your monthly allowance.

Can I use my current phone to access the web as normal?

Yes. 4G networks run alongside the existing 3G networks, so current 3G mobile phones will continue to work as normal. If you get a 4G phone and there is no 4G network in your area then it will use a 3G network instead.

3G network speeds are getting faster, especially on newer phones, so you might be happy remaining on a 3G network.

Finally, one thing to be aware of is battery consumption. 4G devours battery and you may find you need to swap to 3G on occasion to help your phone last longer.