4G (fourth generation) mobile broadband is the latest version of wireless service that delivers broadband internet access to mobile devices. 4G succeeds 3G and provides faster connection speeds, usually between 10Mbps and 20Mbps, and more reliable access to rich online content. The 4G network is currently being rolled out across Ireland.
How fast is 4G?
Most 4G mobile broadband services now available in Ireland promise speeds of 10Mbps to 20Mbps. This is up to three times faster than the 3G services is replacing.
4G should be fast enough to help with some of the factors that make some 3G services slow, like particularly high buildings, long distances from transmitters and thick walls in your home or office.
Most importantly, 4G allows mobile broadband users to do more, such as watch high-definition video, stream music and download large files with ease.
It’s worth bearing in mind that 4G technology (which is also known as LTE or Long Term Evolution) has the potential for speeds greater than 20Mbps, but it may take time for the networks to evolve the point where they are capable of transmitting that quickly.
Furthermore, Vodafone has successfully trialled a ‘4G+’ service, which it says is capable of speeds of up to 150Mbps. It works by combining two 4G bandwidths and is available in parts of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford.
How widely-available is 4G?
All of the mobile operators in Ireland – Vodafone, Three, Meteor, Virgin Media and iD - now offer 4G services, but availability is still limited in many areas.
Vodafone claims 90% of Ireland can now get its service, including six cities and 500 towns nationwide.
Three Ireland (which bought O2 Ireland) is still rolling out its 4G network. It has a coverage map on its website that indicates where its services are available, with most areas only able to get coverage when you are outside, rather than both outside and inside.
Eir, which owns Meteor, is still working on providing nationwide 4G network coverage. Its coverage map shows that the Dublin, Galway, Cork, Limerick and Waterford regions are well served, as are the midlands and Co Tipperary. But at the moment there is practically no availability in the north-west or anywhere west of Limerick and Cork.
What do I need to get 4G?
If you have a 4G-compatible mobile device with a SIM card, you can potentially access 4G speeds. Similarly, if you buy a SIM card and a dongle to plug into your computer’s USB port, you can get 4G.
Before doing that, you should also check each provider’s coverage map to see whether you’ll be able to get the service. Remember, availability is far patchier at the moment than for 3G.
If you want to get Vodafone’s 4G+, there are a small number of compatible handsets available, mainly from Samsung’s range, although this should expand soon.