4G and LTE: everything you need to know

It's been a rough couple of years for Vodafone, but the mobile operator has been working hard to turn things around, beginning with the launch of its 4G network mid 2013, and the introduction of its competitive Red plans.

Late to the 4G party, Vodafone had kept quiet on its plans for 4G for a long time, even going so far as to say it was waiting for the right time to launch the network despite rolling out 4G equipment to its network towers since the start of 2011.

Vodafone then began progressively rolling out its LTE network across the capital cities and major metropolitan centres from June 2013 for existing customers, before making 4G accessible to to new customers from July 2013.

It's hard to say where Vodafone stands in the competitive battle for coverage. The company claims it offers coverage to 96 percent of all Australians, though a quick look at their coverage map shows that the bulk of that coverage outside of capital cities isn't 4G.

Cat 4 LTE is also supported on Vodafone's network, and the network was quick to nab the Cat 4-enabled Galaxy S4 model for its customers in October 2013.

Like Telstra and Optus, Vodafone is using the 1800MHz spectrum for the bulk of its LTE network. The advantage of this frequency for Vodafone is that it has a lot of it, courtesy of its merger with Hutchison's Three network in 2009.

Unlike Telstra and Optus, it didn't participate in the digital dividend auction. Vodafone did sign a deal with TPG (who did buy some spectrum), which saw dark fibre shared with the ISP becoming a Vodafone MVNO.

But in December last year, Vodafone launched 4G+, which saw the extension of the 4G network onto the 850MHz spectrum, with carrier aggregation used to improve the speed of the network.

Contiguous for the win

Late last year, Vodafone was boasting to have the fastest 4G network on the Australian market, though the telco admitted that this likely wouldn't last because, as it was the last to launch its LTE network, it didn't have as big a load and congestion on its network yet.

In terms of devices, like Telstra and Optus, it has all the big names of the past year on its roster - HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Vodafone's contracts for devices are often the cheapest but the other telco's plans are arguably better value, offering notably more data for a few extra bucks.

Vodafone pocket Wi-Fi

Vodafone also offers pocket dongles and USB Wi-Fi hostpots, including those with LTE Cat-4 support.

As part of its Roam Like Home offer for those on the Red plans, Vodafone will switch on global 4G roaming in NZ, the UK and Europe for Aussie customers.

Having spent the past decade editing some of Australia's leading technology publications, Nick's passion for the latest gadgetry is matched only by his love of watching Australia beat England in the rugby.