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4G explained: What is it and what 4G phone’s right for me?

4G, LTE whatever you want to call it, we’ve finally got it in the UK – broadband internet speeds in our pockets . While our friends around the world have been enjoying zippy transfer rates and the phones designed to take advantage them for years, it’s all new and potentially confusing for us Brits not in the know.

Did you know for example, all 4G wasn’t created equal? For example: you can’t country-hop with an 4G phone because of band restrictions. This has resulted in different variations of the same phone being released across markets. Read on for an everything you need to know guide to 4G, and some recommended 4G handsets depending on the type of phone owner you happen to be. 

But LTE is LTE, isn’t it?

No. Thanks to bands, a Verizon LTE handset won’t work with Roger’s LTE network in Canada. You can think of these bands as frequencies. In the States, phones will have a receiver for either 700MHz, 2100/1700MHz or 1900MHz while in Canada they will be either 2100/1700MHz or 2600MHz. If you take a Verizon Droid Incredible (700MHz) across the border therefore, it won’t be able to receive the Roger’s network’s 4G (2100/1700MHz).

In contrast, the UK bands of note are 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz. EE has some spectrum across all three bands, Vodafone across 800MHz and 2600MHz, Three across 800MHz and 1800MHz and O2’s 4G will support 800MHz. 

Will my LTE support LTE on all networks?

Yes, unless you have an iPhone 5.

The band of a phone’s LTE receiver is built into the hardware, it can’t be changed. An LTE reciever is either integrated into the processor as with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 LTE chip in the Samsung Galaxy S4 / HTC One, or it’s included separately.

While most UK LTE compatible phones support the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz frequencies, the iPhone 5, for whatever reason doesn’t support 800MHz or 2100MHz. While technically, it should still work on Three, neither networks have confirmed it will, making EE the only confirmed iPhone 5 compatible network.

So we won’t be seeing global 4G devices?

Actually, we will be. In fact, we already have multi-band LTE devices. Take the Nokia Lumia 925 currently available on Vodafone – it supports 800MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2600MHz.

There hasn’t been the need in the past for multi-band devices as LTE has been such a localised technology but now we will start to see LTE phones that can travel with you. There are also huge implications for phone releases. With LTE going global, it means there will be less discrepancy between the time to market for handsets between countries.

So what should you look out for when buying a 4G phone?

If you’re a globe trotter, it goes without saying, a global LTE phone like the Nokia Lumia 925 or the Huawei Ascend P2 would be our recommendation. The Nokia Lumia 925 is currently the best camera phone on the market, while the Huawei Ascend P2 is slightly more affordable.

If you plan on staying put in the UK but still want LTE, the Nokia Lumia 925 is still a great option if you’re looking for a Windows Phone. For an Android phone packing all the UK bands, the HTC One is our current favourite flagship, along with the Samsung Galaxy S4.

If you’re on a budget, the Nokia Lumia 625 is expected to arrive with LTE on board for as little as £200. Currently, the Sony Xperia SP can also be picked up offline for as little as £260, great value considering the HD display and dual-core performance.

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