The good wi-fi guide: High-speed data and the launch of the first 4G network

Still plodding along with the same five-year-old connection? Stop!

Only connect, we know. But what's your specific way of connecting to the internet? Broadband through your landline? Wireless internet on your mobile? Your iPad via a Wi-Fi hotspot? And why do we all have the same experience: that it's not fast enough? There are lots of options and later this month, everything changes. EE (formerly Everything Everywhere), parent company of Orange and T-Mobile, launches the first 4G network in the UK. And around next May, once the 4G auction has taken place, other networks will join in the fun. EE got there first because it will repurpose some of its existing bandwidth on a 4G-compatible frequency. This will launch in 10 cities on 30 October, with six more by the end of the year.

Angry Birds in an instant

If you want 4G as soon as possible, you'll need to be on Orange or T-Mobile and upgrade to EE when the network goes live. EE will move you across from these networks with no penalty, assuming your 4G tariff isn't cheaper than your current one. The tariff costs haven't been revealed yet, though are unlikely to be massively more than current ones.

With 4G you'll have mobile data speeds of five times current ones. The Independent tested the new network last week and it was impressive. A 3G handset was managing 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds, while the 4G one alongside reached 45Mbps – though this was in a test situation with a few dozen other phones using the same network, not the tens of thousands who will be using it come 30 October.

So what do these speeds add up to? First, it should mean that when you're showing off a website on your phone in the pub, you won't have to awkwardly say "Well, it usually downloads quicker than this."

More than that, downloading an app will be near-instant. It should take less time to put Angry Birds on to your phone than it does to fire the slingshot at your first piggy. Streaming video will be a slicker, glitch-free experience. And downloading a movie to your phone will be a five-minute job, even if you opt for HD.

Faster than your average computer

Traditionally, home broadband has always been way faster than mobiles can manage. And the connection is more reliable than on the move, of course. But 4G is likely to be consistently faster than the average speed managed at home, which is about 9Mbps. If you have BT Infinity, the super-fast offering from BT, you're getting up to 76Mbps – though the roll-out of the fibre-optic network is not yet nationwide. The fastest commonly available speeds come from Virgin Media. If your street is cabled, you could be enjoying 120Mbps (though this costs, obviously).

That's enough for a family to all be doing stuff online at the same time, with no slowdown. On your mobile, most of the time, that download speed isn't being shared with other family members, please note.

And "tethering" means you can use your 4G speeds on your laptop. Tethering is when you connect your computer to the internet via the mobile phone, either wirelessly or by cable. This is particularly useful if you're working during your daily commute, say. And if you want to share, you can. Wireless mobile broadband gadgets, called MiFi gadgets or dongles, allow you to connect multiple devices at the same time, effectively creating your own wireless hotspot (no coffee shop required).

Can't afford it? Dangle a dongle

While you'll definitely need a new phone to access EE's 4G speeds (unless you have already bought an iPhone 5) a 4G dongle is a way round this. With the dongle you can connect any Wi-Fi enabled phone to the internet at 4G speeds. This will be a cost-effective option if your phone contract has a long time to go.

EE will have the monopoly on 4G dongles for months yet, so its model will be the best. But good-value 3G versions, available now and with the benefit of comprehensive coverage, include the Value MiFi from 3, which gives 5GB of data for £15.99 a month and an upfront £29.99 cost. Or there's the Vodafone Mobile Wi-Fi R205 which offers 2GB a month for £15 a month and no upfront cost – it's an 18-month contract. Pay as you go options are also available.

A lifeline for the landline

So is it time to dump the landline? Although the speeds suggest so, there are other factors. First, the battery life of mobiles – if you're using the phone for data connection and making calls you're going to need to keep it plugged in a lot and that's not as comfy when you're on the blower.

Second, it's important to do the sums because mobile networks charge extra for tethering and few tariffs offer unlimited data in the way they do on home broadband. Third, has your mobile ever dropped a call while you were at home? If so, try and remember the last time your landline did…

Home broadband can slow to a crawl, of course, especially at peak times when some companies throttle back speeds to spread it out. Sky promises that its Lite and Unlimited packages don't have traffic management, while Virgin temporarily reduces speeds if you download a lot of stuff.

For instance, if you download seven films within a five-hour period, a speed reduction is imposed for the next five hours, though this reduction is directed so it doesn't affect iPlayer viewing, say, or Skype calls, only large-file downloads on peer-to-peer networks. These are the ones where you download and upload music or film files at the same time. BT similarly targets peer-to-peer networks for traffic speed management.

Keep clear of the glitterball

Even home-broadband routers can struggle in buildings with thick walls or multiple floors, so don't expect a mobile to do better. The latest Home Hub from BT can dynamically change the frequencies it uses to avoid interference. Where your router is placed will probably be limited by where your phoneline socket sits. With multiple sockets, the best reception is on the one that comes into your house, not an extension, though this is only an issue with a poor-quality line. But if you have a choice, the most central point is a good way to achieve the best wireless signal. Sky points out that a router on the floor is not a good idea and that reflective objects such as mirrors or even fish tanks and Christmas decorations can impede the signal. Logic dictates that placing them too close to other wireless gadgets such as baby monitors, cordless phones or microwaves won't help.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

    £24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

    Marketing Account Manager / Client Liaison Manager

    £25 - 32k DOE: Guru Careers: A digital-savvy Marketing Account Manager / Clien...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Executive

    £23-30k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking bright Business Developmen...

    Inside Sales Manager – SaaS based solutions

    25-30k + Comms + Benefits: Sphere Digital Recruitment: A rapidly expanding tag...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"