Test Notes: 4G For a Week

By Sam Gibbs on at

OK, so you might have heard by now that Giz UK has been 4G-powered for a week or two. So, it's about time we gave you our real-world working experience of 4G -- what it's really like to use, and whether it's actually any good.



Like many of our articles this week have pointed out, 4G's fast. But it's not quite as fast where our office is, compared to say, the O2. That's because our office is located on the edge of the trial network. Having said that, we're still getting 25-30Mbps down and 4-8Mbps up -- depending on where we sit -- and none of the drop-outs we've suffered at the hands of 3G networks in the past. The really great thing is that the ping times are unchanged; we genuinely get 20-25ms pings even in poorish signal areas.


Wireless connectivity like fibre

Personally, using it everyday as my main pipe to the internet, to Giz UK and all the stories I read, write and publish -- using O2's 4G network has been just like I've been connected to the office network, which pushes 100Mbps and a 10ms ping. Everything loads on my MacBook Pro as fast as it would if I were cabled in; there's no appreciable lag, slow-down or any real noticeable difference compared to a fixed-line connection, and that's impressive. It also goes to show that for general web browsing, pulling down images and watching YouTube videos, once you get into the 30Mbps range, there's not a whole lot of difference compared to a connection three times as fast. Of course if you're downloading, erm, movies and stuff, you'll see it.


LTE is still a new technology

Out and about in London, we've experienced similar connectivity when there's a network present. We can't bash the network coverage; it's a trial after all and it's not like we're paying for service right now. One thing we have noticed is that the USB-modems currently being used for the trial -- the same ones you can get your grubby little mitts on -- get incredibly hot during use. It just goes to show that even though the US and other countries have had LTE for a little while now, the technology is still incredibly new and inefficient.


4G in a mobile device

Unfortunately there aren't any handsets compatible with the LTE bands being used in the capital right now, so we haven't been able to test it directly with phones or tablets. But we have had a chance to test out both phones and tablets connected to a LTE-powered Wi-Fi hotspot, which isn't exactly the same, but gives you an indication of what it'll be like once we get LTE-powered handsets in the UK. Suffice to say, it was just as quick on the mobile platform as it is on the desktop. OK, you'll have to have a powerful, modern device to actually notice the difference over 3G, due to the potential for lag of the actual device -- but testing it on an iPad 2 and an iPhone 4S, it was as if we were connected to a really fast fixed-line connection.


We want it now

We can safely say that in our testing we've both been shocked and impressed by just how well O2's 4G trial network performs. If this is an indication of what we can expect in 2013-2014, then it's going to be glorious. Yes, it's true that when everyone jumps on the 4G bandwagon you're unlikely to hit the maximum theoretical speeds of 150Mbps, but we're sure it's going to be somewhere in the 10-30Mbps range in real-world use. We just wish that it was going to be here sooner, because two years is a long time to wait. But you don't have to take our word for it. Come check it out at our Giz UK launch party, which we'll be announcing details of soon, and test the 4G network out for yourself.