Thanks to substantial investments in their networks in recent years, three out of South Africa’s four mobile operators – MTN, Vodacom and Telkom – now offer 4G connectivity in major metropolitan areas, with Cell C set to follow suit later this year. This means data can get to and from a 4G-enabled handset, like the Lumia 830, 925, 930 and 1520, up to five times faster than it can using 3G networks.

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It’s not just web browsing that benefits from 4G connectivity, any application that uses an internet connection – from instant messaging services like WhatsApp to social networks like Facebook and Twitter and image-sharing apps like Instagram – performs better with a high-speed connection.

A speedier connection means less time waiting for content to load, the ability to stream video or play multiplayer online games and a generally smoother user experience because everything from weather information to live traffic data in the HERE mapping app relies on mobile data. Mobile data, at the end of the day, is what puts the “smart” in smartphone.

You may see 4G referred to as LTE, or “long-term evolution”, in the media. While there’s an ongoing debate globally about the distinction between the two, in South Africa network operators have come to use the terms interchangeably, which means you can do likewise.

If you’re using a Lumia 830, 925, 930 or 1520 and your network operator supports 4G you can check that your handset is set to default to 4G connectivity where available by selecting “cellular+SIM” under Settings and then selecting “4G”. Whether you’re editing documents or spreadsheets, making Skype video calls or sharing photos or video your Lumia is at its best when it’s connected to a 4G network.

You may notice that 4G signal is less prevalent outside of South Africa’s cities. That’s because 4G towers need to be connected to the mobile operator’s network using fibre optic cable, which is costly, and because 4G signals don’t travel as far as 3G ones do, operators need more 4G towers to cover the same area 3G would cover. This is also why 4G is more prevalent in big cities: operators can recoup the investment in 4G more rapidly when they deploy it in densely populated areas where more consumers are likely to use it.

Thankfully, however, modern smartphones like the Lumia range support all network connection options, including GSM, HSPA and LTE/4G, so even if you don’t have 4G coverage, your device will still pick up 3G or 2G. You can use the preinstalled Data Sense app that lets you monitor your data usage by providing info on how you consumer data. You can set limits and instruct your Lumia to go into data conservation mode.

Moreover, operators charge the same for data regardless of type, so 4G won’t cost you any more than 3G, but because it’s substantially faster you’re liable to use more data than you would with 3G, so keep an eye on your data bundle or prepaid data balance to ensure you don’t get hit with out-of-bundle rates.