The internet is already a huge part of our lives, but not just for browsing the web.

Email, social media, and online services like banking and shopping are also essential for many, but as the things we can do on the internet become more complex, we demand and expect more from our internet connection.

Not that fast access to the web or downloading very large files causes much concern when we’re using a desktop or notebook PC. Superfast broadband means even streaming high-quality music and high-definition video is simplicity itself these days, but while we can rely on near-instant internet access when we’re at home, what happens when we’re not?

That’s why most of us carry a smartphone. The catch is that the 3G mobile networks they connect too can’t quite deliver the same internet experience we’re used to with home broadband. So with smartphones now replacing traditional PCs as the main computer for many, we need high-speed internet on the move  mobile broadband to match. And that’s where 4G comes in.

4G means faster downloads and uploads when out and about

What’s 4G and what does it do?

4G is short for ‘fourth generation’ and it’s a next-generation mobile technology that improves on the ‘third generation’ 3G standard we’ve all been using since 2003.

Both download and upload speeds are much faster than with 3G, which makes 4G ideal for use with smartphones — where you might want to upload files to the internet as well as download them.

On paper, 4G can download data at 150 megabits per second (Mbit/s) and upload it at 50Mbit/s. In comparison, 3G can reach 42Mbit/s for downloads and 22Mbit/s for uploads. So it’s easy to see how 4G is much more useful than 3G for mobile use.

Factors such as signal strength and how many other people are using the mobile network at the same time will affect performance, so actual or ‘real world’ speeds for 4G and 3G will always be lower than those quoted above, but 4G will always be much faster than 3G. 

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How fast is 4G?

To give you some idea of the speed differences between 3G and 4G, BT performed some simple tests doing the kinds of things many people do every day with their smartphones - downloading an app, purchasing music from an online service and uploading video to share with others.

As the tests used identical smartphones at the same time and in the same place over the BT Mobile network, any differences are due solely to the speed of the 3G and 4G connections.

Looking at the chart below, it’s immediately obvious that 4G downloads are around twice as fast as 3G. Uploading, however, is three times faster, which means you can upload a video to Google Drive to share with someone else in just one minute, while you’ll have to wait for more than three minutes with 3G.

Check out the video above to see 4G in action.

Activity 3G 4G
Downloading the Spotify app 62 seconds 25 seconds
Downloading an EP from Deezer 53 seconds 27 seconds
Downloading the BT Sport app 64 seconds 37 seconds
Uploading a video to Google Drive 186 seconds 60 seconds


Choosing a 4G network

It’s clear than 4G offers a significant improvement on 3G. As long as your smartphone supports 4G - and all relatively new models do -  you can enjoy mobile speeds on a par with your those of your home broadband.

Having faster mobile data on the move will probably mean that you use more of it, so pay close attention to how much data you are using and make sure you are on the right tariff.

BT customers have a real advantage here, too. Thanks to a £5 discount for anyone who lives in a BT Broadband home all, BT Mobile’s 4G plans are hard to beat, whether you need 500MB of data each month or 20GB.


What’s Extra Speed 4G?

Extra Speed 4G is an add-on available to BT Mobile customers, allowing them even faster upload and download speeds on their mobile phones.

Speeds can increase to a maximum of 60Mbps*, this means you’ll be able to stream movies and TV programmes, upload pictures and download apps much more quickly.

Extra Speed 4G costs £4 a month and is available on a 30-day rolling contract that can be cancelled at any time.