On the day the UK’s 20-year rule revealed the content of a speech the Queen would have made in the event of a third world war breaking out, UK network O2 has announced its launch plans for LTE, marking the beginnings of what will be a war for the fourth generation of mobile networks in the country.
The UK is an interesting case, as while it has one of the highest penetrations of smartphones on the market, it has lagged behind in the adoption of 4G. Things are finally starting to move along though now. The day after LTE spectrum was cleared for use, EE, which has had the UK LTE market to itself for the best part of a year, now has a clear response from O2, marking a transition from cold war to hot. O2 has said that will launch its LTE network in less than 30 days, on 29 August, but only in London, Leeds and Bradford. (By contrast, EE initially launched in four cities, with Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol joining London).
By the end of the year though O2 says it will be in 13 cities, also taking in Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh. EE followed up its launch with 16 cities and now is in, which again indicates that coverage will be a battle ground, with EE boasting 95 locations.
O2 says it will be adding coverage of two million people a month, and as part of its 800MHz spectrum allocation it has to meet a 98 per cent UK coverage requirement for 4G for both indoor and outdoor. While on its consumer page announcing the 4G launch O2 makes no mention of prices but said it will have tariffs that will be ‘fit for your needs’. However, the media page says that tariffs will start at £26 a month. Interestingly, the tariff will come with a ‘30 day Happiness Guarantee’, which hints that O2 is to a certain extent bracing itself for customers signing up without checking their coverage first and then coming a cropper.
As a sweetener, it has also revealed a 12 months free music deal for those who buy a 4G consumer tariff direct from O2. On the FAQ the question, “Will it be unlimited?” has been answered with the line, “Details of our prices and tariffs will be announced near to launch, but our tariffs will be fit for your needs.” Or in other words, ‘no’.
Wot no iPhone?
The other no is to the question – ‘do you have a 4G iPhone at launch?’ The iPhone 5 supports EE’s 1800MHz LTE, but O2, and the other networks, will have to wait for the new iPhone/s to arrive later in the year for 800MHz support. With the iPhone starting to wane as the smartphone of choice, that might not be a disaster, but it is still an omission in its lineup O2 would rather do without, and ironic for the network that until 2009, was the exclusive home of the iPhone in the UK.
Addressing this, O2 is offering its customers who have bought an iPhone 5 from O2 between September and 31st March 2013 a change to change to a 4G ready phone even if they are in contract. So O2 looks as though it’s going to have to compete with EE with less coverage, no iPhone, and no indication that its prices will be cheaper. It could offer larger data bundles than EE did at launch, but EE has already headed that off by doubling data allowances for new customers on contract. And while O2 can point to its 800MHz as having more effective in building coverage, EE has used its bountiful 1800MHz spectrum reserves to offer 2 x 20MHz bandwidth, which it has dubbed ‘double speed’.
We’ll have to wait for more details on the tariff pricing but if O2 can’t undercut EE, it could struggle. For UK mobile broadband users though, it’s no question that progress is finally being made and once Vodafone and Three pile in, the war for market share will really start to hot up, and that’s worth shouting about, with or without a Queen’s speech.