Best 4G deals: UK 4G networks and tariffs compared
EE lost exclusivity over the UK's 4G services back in September last year and since then a number of 4G deals have launched from other networks, the latest coming from Tesco Mobile.
Vodafone, O2, Three and EE all offer 4G, but each have varied coverage across the UK so it's worth taking a look at the network because if there's no 4G coverage in your area, then you're no better off than you were with 3G.
If you are looking to switch to 4G but aren't sure what the best deal is then you've come to the right place. We have compared prices and devices, along with best network coverage and deals to help you figure out which is best for you.
Best 4G network coverage
EE announced its 4G service in the UK on 11 September 2012, with the service going live on 30 October 2012. The 4G service covers nearly 70 per cent of the population and expansion is set to continue with a commitment to cover 98 per cent of the UK population by the end of 2014.
There are also 20 cities on the list that benefit from "double speed 4G" including Belfast, Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. These twenty cities will experience a theoretical top speed of 150Mbps with EE's double speed 4G.
The O2 4G service launched in three cities initially - London, Leeds and Bradford - but it is now available in 13 cities across the UK including Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
One of the pitches from O2 is that it has secured plenty of 800MHz spectrum, meaning that it should perform better indoors than EE's 1800MHz offering.
It is worth noting that Tesco Mobile and giffgaff both run on the O2 network so should both have the same 4G coverage as O2.
Initial roll-out of Vodafone's 4G network only covered London, but the network is now operating in 15 cities across the UK including Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham.
Vodafone asserts that 4G coverage will come to 98 per cent of the population, again making the point that it has plenty of 800MHz spectrum, so performing better indoors.
Three's 4G network launched in the UK in December last year. It currently covers London, Birmingham and Manchester, but coverage is promised to expand to 50 cities by the end of 2014.
Like Vodafone, Three claims that 98 per cent of the country will be covered by the end of 2015.
Best SIM-only 4G deals
When it comes to tariffs, there's plenty of scope for complexity, with varying costs for devices, options to upgrade and a whole lot more. So we're starting with SIM-only deals to see how the prices vary when you're paying for data only.
EE, Three, Tesco Mobile and giffgaff all offer 4G SIM-only tariffs comprising both 30-day and 12-month options, while O2 and Vodafone only offer 12-month plans.
We have ignored the 500MB plans and gone straight for the 1GB and over options as if you want 4G, you're probably going to want a decent data allowance to go with it.
Three has the cheapest SIM-only deal with a £9.90 a month plan that offers 1GB of data, 600 minutes and 5000 texts.
Tesco Mobile and giffgaff follow closely behind with £10 a month plans for 1GB of data. Tesco Mobile's will give you 1000 minutes and 5000 texts, while giffgaff offers 500 minutes and unlimited texts.
EE and O2's 1GB plans will both cost you £21 but you'll get unlimited minutes and unlimited texts, while Vodafone's 4G SIM-only plans start at £26 but you'll get 6GB of data along with unlimited minutes and texts if you sign up before 31 January.
If you are more interested in data than minutes and texts, giffgaff will give you unlimited internet for £12 a month with 250 minutes and unlimited texts, and Three offers its all-you-can-eat data from £12.90 a month with 200 minutes and 5000 texts.
Therefore giffgaff's £12 a month plan seems to offer the best SIM-only deal if you don't intend on chatting for hours.
Best 4G tariffs: Splitting devices and data
All the networks take a different approach to pairing up devices and your tariff. They all offer a selection of the best handsets you can get, but there's plenty of complexity when it comes to comparing prices directly. All the deals we're looking at here are for 24 months.
EE and Three will charge you an upfront cost for some of the premium devices, but then you pay a fixed monthly data tariff.
Vodafone and Tesco Mobile both offer an all-in price, including the data tariff and the handset.
O2's 4G Refresh means you pick a data tariff and then pay a price for your device each month, with the advantage of being able to upgrade the handset at any time. But there are also options to lessen the monthly blow on O2 by paying some cash upfront, making the tariffs almost impossible to compare, but offering lots of flexibility for customers.
Giffgaff works slightly differently again, allowing you to work out a payment plan for the phone. You can choose to pay the entire upfront cost or you pay an initial payment and then choose between 6, 12, 18 and 24 months for the remaining balance. You then pick your "goodybag" which range from £7.50 to £20 a month depending on the data, minutes and texts you want.
The cheapest way to get a 4G device and talk plan right now is to pick up the Nokia Lumia 920 or Samsung Galaxy Ace 3 from Tesco Mobile for £15.50 a month with 500MB of data, 250 minutes and 5000 texts.
The cheapest Tesco Mobile deal with a useful amount of data is £23 a month, with which you get 1GB, 500 minutes and 5000 texts, plus a free Samsung S4 mini.
EE's cheapest deal with a good amount of data is £23.99 for 2GB, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts, along with a free Sony Xperia SP. This option is a pound more than Tesco but you get double the data, as well as more minutes and texts.
O2's cheapest deal includes the Sony Xperia XP which costs £10 a month on O2 Refresh. Paired with O2's cheapest data deal, which is 1GB for £17 a month with unlimited minutes and texts, you're looking at £27 a month.
The cheapest Vodafone deal is to take the 2GB Red plan with a free device like the Samsung S4 mini again for £34 a month with unlimited minutes and texts.
Three's cheapest all-you-can-eat data plan that includes a free 4G handset such as the Nokia Lumia 925 will cost £28 a month with 2000 minutes and 5000 texts.
Giffgaff's best deal for a mid-range phone such as the Sony Xperia SP is a £60 upfront cost, followed by monthly payments of £19.39 for 1GB of data, 500 minutes and unlimited texts or £21.39 for unlimited data, 250 minutes and unlimited texts.
Hottest smartphones, fastest data
By way of comparison, we've decided to look at a couple of the best handsets to compare prices.
Apple iPhone 5S
Tesco Mobile offers the 32GB Apple iPhone 5S for £39 a month with 1GB of data, 500 minutes and 5000 texts, plus no upfront payment for the phone. For 2GB of data, 1000 minutes and 5000 texts, it will cost you £42.50 a month.
On Three, you will pay £42 a month with an upfront payment of £99 for the 32GB iPhone 5S, but you will get all-you-can-eat data with this plan. It also includes 500 minutes and 5000 texts. The average monthly cost works out to be around £46 over the contract period.
O2 offers the 32GB iPhone 5S with 1GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts for £42 a month with a one-off upfront payment of £109.99. This works out to be around £47 a month on average over the 24 months.
EE offers the 32GB iPhone 5S with 2GB of data, unlimited texts and unlimited minutes for £40 a month with an upfront device cost of £229.99. This works out at an average of £50 a month across the two-year life of the plan.
Vodafone will give you 2GB of data for £47 a month, along with a one-off payment of £149 for the 32GB iPhone 5S. Over 24 months, this works out at around £53 a month, but you will get an additional 4GB of data if you order before 31 January.
The iPhone 5S is not available through giffgaff.
READ: Apple iPhone 5S review
Tesco Mobile offers the 32GB HTC One for £29 a month with no upfront cost that includes 1GB of data, 500 minutes and 5000 texts. For 2GB of data, 1000 minutes and 5000 texts, you are looking at £32.50 a month.
Three's cheapest plan for the 32GB model is £32 a month with a £29 upfront cost. That works out at just over £33 a month over your 24-month contract and you'll get all-you-can-eat data, as well as 500 minutes and 5000 texts.
Vodafone will give you the 32GB model, with 2GB of data, for £38 a month with unlimited minutes and texts. If you order before 31 January, you'll get 4GB of extra data so hurry up if you want that deal.
O2 also offers the 32GB model, but its beginning package is just 1GB, which will set you back £37 a month with no upfront cost and unlimited minutes and texts on O2 Refresh. There is also the option to pay £42 a month with no upfront cost for 5GB of data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts.
EE will give you the 32GB model, with 2GB of data for £40 a month with an upfront cost of £9.99. That's just over £40 a month average across the two-year life of the contract.
Giffgaff offers the HTC One for £30.38 a month, with an upfront cost of £60. This will give you 1GB of data, 500 minutes and unlimited texts.
READ: HTC One review
Samsung Galaxy S4
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is available free on Tesco Mobile for £30 a month with 1GB of data 500 minutes and 5000 texts, or £33.50 a month with 2GB of data, 1000 minutes and 5000 texts.
Three offers the 16GB Samsung Galaxy S4 for £33 a month and no upfront cost, with all-you-can-eat data, 500 minutes and 5000 texts.
Vodafone will give you the 16GB SGS4, with 2GB of data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts for £38 a month. Again, there's only a few pounds in it but you will get 4GB of extra data if you order by 31 January.
O2's deal also gives you a 16GB model, but if you don't want to pay upfront it will cost £37 a month for 1GB of data, unlimited texts and unlimited minutes on O2 Refresh. There is also the £42 a month option like with the HTC One, whereby you will get 5GB of data, unlimited texts and unlimited minutes.
EE will give you a 16GB SGS4, with 2GB of data (£40 a month), for £9.99 with unlimited minutes and texts. That's just over £40 a month average for two years.
Giffgaff offers the SGS4 for for £29.42 a month, with an upfront cost of £60. This will give you 1GB of data, 500 minutes and unlimited texts.
READ: Samsung Galaxy S4 review
With 4G being ideal for pushing more than just messages and pictures to your phone, all the networks have turned to offering entertainment incentives to tempt you into LTE.
EE is continuing its Orange cinema deals, offering 2-for-1 cinema tickets on Wednesdays, as well as EE Film, giving you access to the latest releases to stream (£3.99 for a new title), along with a special 99p deal on Thursdays. There's also mobile TV, Deezer and game downloads you can get to, Clone phone lite and services like Cash on Tap.
Vodafone wants to tempt you across with the promise of Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile TV access as part of the deal. The former is worth £9.99 a month, Sky Sports Mobile TV is £4.99 a month. However, if you opt for the Vodafone Red plan, the cheapest, you only get six months of free access. If you want it for longer, you'll have to take the Red L or XL plans.
O2 is sweetening the deal with music, letting you download all the Top 40 hits, as well as stream the videos to your device. If you want to game, then O2 also offers a gaming deal, with any gaming data not detracting from your data allowance. There's also the O2 Priority offering that's already in place and if you sign up to a 5GB or 8GB data plan, you will also get access to Sun+ Goals for 6 months or 12 months, respectively.
We're not overly convinced by the extras on offer. In reality, we'd rather pay less for data, than subsidise the freebees. However, EE's cinema offer is good, although that's in existence for 3G Orange customers already.
Vodafone's Spotify Premium deal is pretty good if you're taking one of the pricier plans, saving you from that separate cost.
Three and Tesco Mobile don't charge a premium for 4G, which could be considered the best sweetener of them all.
If you're looking at moving to 4G, then there will be other upgrade offers, incentives, as well as options to trade in your 3G contract to move over. For example, Vodafone will let those who have a 4G ready handset trial the 4G experience for three months, using as much data as they like, before presenting the options available.
Alternatively, there is a calculator on O2 that will help you work out roughly how much data you will use a month so you can pick the right plan for you.
EE certainly has the widest coverage at the moment, but if you're a London resident, that might be of little concern, as the capital will be well covered by all the 4G network services on offer.
Three has the least amount of 4G coverage across the country at the moment so you might find it isn't available in your area yet, but the fact that you don't have to pay anymore for 4G is a strong proposition.
The quick comparisons we've done reveal that there isn't a huge difference in price once you've crunched the numbers: it comes down to a few pounds here and there, as well as deciding whether you are willing to sacrifice minutes and texts for more data or not.