Guide to 4G in London and the UK

All the major mobile networks off 4G connectivity now, however it is not all the same and if you are buying a mobile plan in London there are some things that you should consider.

UK 4G Frequencies by broadbandlondon.com

UK 4G Frequencies by broadbandlondon.com

4G Frequency Bands

4G is broadcast on different frequencies – lower frequencies go much further and have a lower throughput (and hence speed) whilst higher frequencies give much faster data rates but only over short distances.  Typically lower frequencies are very useful in rural areas as they give much better coverage per mobile tower however they have an interesting property that is important for city subscribers too: they travel through buildings well so they improve indoor coverage.

In the UK, 4G is broadcast on three frequency bands: 800MHz (Band 20), 1800MHz (Band 3) and 2600MHz (Band 7).  Different mobile networks have different amounts of some of these frequencies.

Network Coverage Link 800MHz 4G 1800MHz 4G 2600MHz 4G
EE Check coverage here 2 x 5 MHz 2 x 45 MHz 2 x 35 MHz
Three Check coverage here 2 x 5 MHz 2 x 15 MHz
O2 Check coverage here 2 x 10 MHz
Vodafone Check coverage here 2 x 10 MHz 2 x 20 MHz
1 x 25 MHz

Falling back to 3G and 2G

In most areas of the capital you’ll be covered by 4G, however occasionally you’ll fall back to 3G coverage.  Within the UK these networks operate on two different frequency bands: 900MHz and 2100MHz.  Failing that all the networks except Three operate a 2G network on either 900MHz or 1800MHz.

What else should be considered?

4G+ 

Under the hood this is an LTE Advanced network.  If used with a compatible device implementations of these networks give very high data throughout.  If using EE’s network speeds in London up to 60Mbs can be achieved, which rival fixed line fibre broadband.

VoLTE (Voice over LTE/4G) 

Unlike 3G, 4G is a pure data network.  In order to use the additional network capacity that 4G offers, networks need to implement VoLTE which turns your voice call into data (similar to Skype but with very different technology).  Most UK networks offer this, EE brand it as 4G Calling (alongside Wifi Calling), Three call it 4G Super-Voice whilst Vodafone call it HD Voice.  O2 has been trialling VoLTE but without many announcements or wide-scale roll outs.

What is best for London? 

If you are looking for the best 4G data rates and voice calling more frequency coverage is best. EE operate the amazingly fast 2600 MHz with additional capacity from the 1800MHz and indoor coverage on 800MHz. It is hard to beat this. In addition to this some areas are covered by their double speed 4G+ network and they offer VoLTE to give good voice call coverage too.  Check out your EE coverage here, but in general EE consistently performs.