The UK finally has real 4G competition, after Vodafone and O2 set their — initially rather limited — LTE networks live. They join EE, which has had almost a year’s headstart and therefore has a more extensive 4G network already in place.
All the UK’s mobile operators bought spectrum at a much-delayed auction at the start of this year, allowing them to start offering super-fast mobile broadband services. However, due to the result of a merger between T-Mobile UK and Orange UK, EE already had an unusually large pile of 1800MHz 2G spectrum, which it was allowed to reuse for 4G as of October last year. Hence the headstart, which has allowed it to roll out 4G in 105 towns and cities so far.
Vodafone said on Thursday that it has already had 20,000 signups for its 4G service, which is initially available in London – the carrier says it will over the next two months turn on a new cell site there every 30 minutes.
O2, meanwhile, used the occasion of its 4G network’s birth to open pre-orders for the 4G variant of Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet — the LTE-equipped device will hit O2′s stores on 13 September, while the Wi-Fi-only variant went on sale in the UK on Wednesday. O2′s 4G network is initially available in London and the northern cities of Leeds and Bradford.
Price-wise, the three big networks are all in a similar range but Vodafone offers the best deal, setting a 2GB cap on its low-end £26-per-month tariff, whereas the other two set a 1GB limit on their identically-priced tariffs. All the carriers are offering premium music and video content as part of the package.
However, Vodafone, O2 and EE all charge a premium over their normal 3G pricing for the pleasure of using 4G. The scrappy fourth player, Three, said back in February that it would not charge a premium when it introduces LTE – and what’s more, it won’t cap usage. Three’s rollout will begin in December in the three largest British cities, namely London, Birmingham and Manchester.