Road testing 4G for travel to Italy

Super-fast Internet, 4G or LTE, arrived in Italy late in 2012. When I was there last month, I had my first chance to test it out “in the wild”.

I made a few coverage observations and occasional speed tests, using my iPhone 5 and 4G data with Vodafone—who have been rolling out 4G steadily across Italy’s major citiesThese tests are not scientific and make no claims to be. But, to give you an idea of what to expect, here’s what I found on my travels:

  • In theory, Vodafone’s 4G network can return download speeds of 43 or 70 Mbps. I didn’t get near either of those theoretical maximums, anywhere.
  • Coverage in Rome was fast and comprehensive, especially outdoors. Pages were loading instantly. There was a definite “wow” factor.
  • Coverage in Naples was also fast (tests averaged around 29 Mbps download speeds), but the narrow streets in the centre made for a patchy 4G signal.
  • Coverage in Turin was fast and reliable: I tested at 25 Mbps download, 8 Mbps upload.
  • There is no 4G coverage in Florence.
  • A test in Milano Centrale station returned a download speed of 14 Mbps. In mitigation, I was under cover and it was rush hour.
  • A test in Bologna Centrale station (also inside) returned a download speed of 22 Mbps.

To give you an idea for comparison: 3G data speeds outside my home in London average around 8 Mbps down, 1.5 Mbps up. And I’m pretty happy with that.

It’s currently free to use Vodafone’s 4G network in Italy—or, rather, 4G speeds are included with their current crop of data and all-in plans. After May 31, 2013, 4G will no longer be bundled with those. For 10€ you will be able to make your ricaricabile (prepaid/PAYG plan) 4G-ready by activating the Internet 4G per smartphone option.

Is it worth paying 10€ if you are only touring the country for a week or two? I’m not sure. Voda’s 3G is already reasonably fast; they run a good national network with affordable voice, text and data plans. And 4G geographical coverage is still fairly limited—Vodafone’s 4G/LTE detailed coverage map is kept up to date here. Ultimately, it depends on how much you value an instant (versus a mere “quick”) connection, and how much time you are planning to spend in 4G-enabled cities.

TIM also offers LTE/4G speeds in some Italian cities (notably also excluding Florence). Their coverage map is here, and is a little broader than Voda. TIM already has a 4G add-on for travellers up and running (and it isn’t free…): for 6€ per week, you can prepay for 500 Mb of 4G traffic with the TIM per smartphone 4G option.

[Also cross-posted at SmartphoneTravel.com]

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2 Comments

  1. brian January 31, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Hi Donald,

    Thanks for the helpful information, I saw your article before I arrived for Florence and it helped! I just have one question, which iPhone model were you able to get LTE to work on? I purchased a 5S unlocked A1533 in the US, and have been unable to get LTE to work for Vodafone Fly plan.

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  1. 3G data and voice plans for smartphone use in Italy | Donald's Archive 2.0.1 - May 16, 2013

    […] Aside from the prices, the other big change since 2012 is the arrival of 4G (or LTE) data speeds. I was all over Italy last month and had a chance to test out one of the networks “in the wild”. […]

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