Double Speed 4G and 4G+: Worth The Upgrade For Higher Speeds?
September 27th, 2016
EE currently offers three tiers of download speed: standard 4G (up to 20Mbps), double-speed 4G (up to 60Mbps) and 4G+ (up to 90Mbps, their fastest 4G).
If you’re joining EE on a Pay Monthly contract, you now have three different types of tariff to choose from.
Their basic 4G offering is available on 4GEE Essential and starts from £16.99/month with up to a 20Mbps download speed. This is about four times faster than a standard 3G connection (in the real world, typical download speeds will be more like 12-15Mbps).
Customers on the more expensive 4GEE will get access to EE’s faster double-speed 4G network. Download speeds on double-speed 4G can go up to 60Mbps, but are more typically between 24-30Mbps (this is about eight times faster than standard 3G).
Finally, customers on the most expensive 4GEE Max will get access to EE’s fastest 4G+ service (also known as 4.5G or LTE-Advanced). This gives maximum download speeds of up to 90Mbps. You’ll need a compatible smartphone supporting the service (with Category 6 LTE or higher) and you’ll need to be living in a 4G+ coverage area (at the moment, the service is only available in London).
In this article, we’ll review and compare the three different levels of 4G coverage. We’ll also find out how much difference double-speed 4G and 4G+ make in reality, and whether it’s worthwhile to upgrade your handset and tariff.
What is Double Speed 4G and 4G+?
In the UK, most 4G mobile networks will give you a download speed of around 12-15Mbps. This is about four times faster than a standard 3G connection.
On EE, Pay Monthly customers choosing either 4GEE or 4GEE Max can access maximum download speeds that are significantly higher. Subject to coverage in your area and handset compatibility, you’ll have access to either double speed 4G or 4G+ coverage.
On double-speed 4G, average download speeds are around 24-30Mbps (EE advertises the service as offering up to 60Mbps). The average upload speed is about 11Mbps (about twice as fast as standard 4G). In order to access double-speed 4G, you’ll need a handset that’s compatible with the service.
With 4G+ (also known as 4.5G or LTE-Advanced), customers on 4GEE Max are able to access even higher speeds. Typical download speeds are up to 90Mbps: significantly faster than many fibre broadband connections. The average upload speed is also higher at around 30Mbps. Only a limited number of handsets currently support 4G+ download speeds (popular choices include the iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7).
According to EE, download and upload speeds compare as follows between the 4G offerings:
|Plan Type||Technology||Average Download Speed||Average Upload Speed|
|4GEE Essential||Standard 4G||12-15Mbps||5.5Mbps|
|4GEE Max||4G+ (LTE-Advanced)||90Mbps||30Mbps|
Source: ee.co.uk. According to EE, the peak download speeds are 30Mbps on their standard 4G service, 60Mbps on double-speed 4G and 150Mbps on 4G+ (their LTE-Advanced service).
If you’re an EE Pay As You Go customer, you’ll get double-speed 4G on Everything Packs of £15/month or more. All other customers will receive the standard 4G service.
Impact on Download Times
In terms of real world impact, the difference you’ll notice with double-speed 4G and 4G+ will really depend on how you use your smartphone.
If you’re browsing the internet, the average web page will download in 0.1 second with 4G+ and 0.2 seconds with double-speed 4G. On standard 4G, it’ll be approximately 0.5 seconds whereas on a 3G network it’ll be 1.7 seconds. With only a small difference in download time, you’re unlikely to notice much of a difference when browsing the internet.
For larger downloads (e.g. apps and games), the increased download speeds will start to become a little more noticeable. Take a typical smartphone app of about 13MB in size. With 4G+, this will download to your phone in just 1.2 seconds. This compares to 3.5 seconds on double-speed 4G and 7 seconds on standard 4G. Given the real-world time saving is still measured in seconds, this probably isn’t a big enough benefit to warrant upgrading to a higher tariff.
You’ll only really notice a significant difference when it comes to very large downloads on your smartphone. Take a 2-hour movie (around 1.2GB from iTunes). On normal 4G, the movie will take around 11 minutes to download. This will drop to around 5 minutes when using double-speed 4G and around 2 minutes when using 4G+. If you download movies on a regular basis (and if you have a download allowance that’s large enough for you to do so), the higher speeds will begin to become a more worthwhile upgrade. For the majority of users, however, there’s probably little benefit in upgrading solely for higher download speeds.
The following table shows approximate download times for different types of content on 3G, 4G, double-speed 4G and 4G+:
|Activity||3G (HSPA+)||Standard 4G||Double Speed 4G||4G+|
|Accessing typical web page||1.7 seconds||0.5 seconds||0.2 seconds||0.1 second|
|Sending an e-mail without attachments||<0.1 second||<0.1 second||<0.1 second||<0.1 second|
|Downloading high-quality photograph||4 seconds||1 second||0.5 seconds||0.2 seconds|
|Downloading an music track (MP3)||10 seconds||3 seconds||1.3 seconds||0.4 seconds|
|Downloading an application||26 seconds||7 seconds||3.5 seconds||1.2 seconds|
|Downloading a movie||40 minutes||11 minutes||5 minutes||2 minutes|
For the comparison table, we have used the average download speeds: 4Mbps (3G HSPA+), 15Mbps (standard 4G), 30Mbps (double speed 4G) and 90Mbps (4G+). Typical file sizes used in our calculations: 859KB for a webpage (Feb 2014, Mobile HTTP Archive), 10KB for a basic e-mail, 2MB for a high-quality photograph, 5MB for a music track, 13MB for a typical app download and 1.2GB for a standard-definition movie.
For more information, please see our in-depth guide to mobile download speeds.
Other Benefits of 4GEE Max & 4GEE
Along with faster download speeds, there are multiple other benefits when choosing 4GEE Max or 4GEE. The following table shows an at-a-glance comparison:
|4GEE Max||4GEE||4GEE Essential|
|Monthly Price||From £25.99/month||From £20.99/month||From £16.99/month|
|Minutes||Unlimited||Unlimited||300 to 1,000|
|Data||3GB to 40GB||1GB to 20GB||300MB to 2GB|
|Data Speed||Up to 90Mbps
|Up to 60Mbps
|Up to 20Mbps
|Inclusive EU Roaming|
|EU minutes||✔ Unlimited||✔ Unlimited||✘ 4.36p/min*|
|EU texts||✔ Unlimited||✔ Unlimited||✘ 1.74p/min*|
|EU data||✔ Use your UK allowance
(up to 15GB per month)
|✔ 500MB||✘ From £1/day*|
|BT Sport||✔ 24 months||✔ 6 months||✔ 6 months|
|Early Upgrade||✔ On selected 25GB and 40GB plans||✘||✘|
* From the 15th June 2017, EE will be legally obliged to offer EU roaming at no extra charge for all customers regardless of their tariff.
For more information, please read our in-depth review of 4GEE Max and 4GEE.
In order to fully take advantage of the higher speeds available, you’ll need a handset that’s compatible with the double-speed 4G and 4G+ mobile networks.
Almost all modern 4G smartphones should support double-speed 4G. They include the Apple iPhone 5s, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and later devices from both Apple and Samsung. On the spec sheet, you can double-check by looking for Category 4 LTE support (sometimes abbreviated as Cat4 LTE).
For 4G+ download speeds, you’ll need a smartphone that supports Category 6 LTE or higher (sometimes abbreviated as Cat6 LTE on manufacturer spec sheets). Smartphones supporting 4G+ include the iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7 (a full list can be found on the EE website).
Double Speed 4G Coverage
In order to benefit from higher speeds on 4GEE, you’ll need to live in an area with double-speed 4G coverage.
EE currently has 97% population coverage for their 4G service with about 80% coverage on double-speed 4G. Most urban areas are now covered by a double-speed 4G service but some rural areas will only have access to standard 4G.
You can enter your postcode on EE’s online coverage checker to see whether double-speed 4G is available where you live.
4G+ Coverage (LTE-Advanced)
At present, only customers living in London are able to benefit from 4G+ download speeds. Going forward, EE has pledged to roll out their 4G+ service in 2017 to “twenty of the UK’s busiest cities”.
As well as living in a 4G+ coverage area, you’ll also need to have a 4G+ smartphone. Your smartphone will need to support Category 6 LTE or higher (also known as Cat6 LTE or LTE-Advanced). You can see a list of compatible smartphones on the EE website.
EE’s double-speed 4G works by making use of a 2 x 20MHz chunk of 4G spectrum. Compared to other 4G networks which only use a 2 x 10MHz chunk (e.g. O2 and Vodafone), EE has twice the capacity for data to flow over their network (it’s a bit like having twice as many lanes on a motorway). By utilising a 2 x 20MHz chunk of spectrum, EE is able to offer double-speed downloads compared to a normal 2 x 10MHz network.
At present, EE uses their 1800MHz spectrum to offer double-speed 4G (this gives download speeds of around 30Mbps). Both O2 and Vodafone offer normal-speed 4G (around 15Mbps). With limited spectrum in the 800MHz range, they aren’t able to offer double-speed 4G. Meanwhile, Three has enough spectrum to offer 1.5-times speed 4G at 1800MHz (download speeds of around 22Mbps).
In the UK, 4G is being implemented using LTE-FDD. LTE-FDD requires a pair of two frequencies: one frequency for downloading and another frequency for uploading. As spectrum is paired in an upload/download arrangement, the quantity of spectrum is normally listed as 2 times some figure (e.g. 2x5MHz, 2x10MHz, etc). 2x20MHz means there is 20MHz available for upload and another 20MHz available for download. * LTE networks are limited to using 2x20MHz channels. For more information, see our article on the UK’s 4G landscape.
For their 4G+ service, EE is utilising a technology known as LTE Advanced (4.5G). LTE Advanced uses carrier aggregation to combine bandwidth from different parts of the spectrum. On EE, 4G+ uses 2 x 20MHz from the 1800MHz range and another 2 x 20MHz from the 2600MHz range. Together, there is 2 x 40MHz working together giving you download speeds of around 90Mbps (it’s a little bit like doubling the lanes on your motorway once again).
Due to their limited amount of spectrum, other networks are unable to match EE’s 4G+ service in terms of speed. With LTE-Advanced and carrier aggregation, Three would only be able to match EE’s double-speed 4G service. Meanwhile, Vodafone has a 4.5G service with 2 x 30MHz of spectrum in total (the service is still slower than 4G+ on EE).
If you’re looking to have the fastest download speeds in the UK, we would definitely recommend choosing 4GEE Max.
Keeping Your Phone Number
If you’re changing over to EE, it’s a straightforward process to keep your current phone number.
First of all, contact your old network and ask them for a PAC Code. The PAC Code authorises the transfer of your phone number to EE.
Once you’ve received the PAC code, order your new handset or SIM card from EE. Finally, head over to this online form where you can submit the PAC Code and have your number switched over. Your number transfer will normally take place on the next working day.
For a step-by-step guide on moving your number to EE, please use our PAC Code Finder tool:
|PAC Code Finder: Transfer Your Phone Number to EE|
My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.
Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.