O2 4G Arrives In London, Leeds And Bradford On 29 August

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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O2 4G will launch at the end of this month, with 13 cities covered in LTE by the end of 2013

O2 4G will launch in London, Leeds and Bradford on 29 August before reaching ten more UK cities by the end of the 2013, the operator has confirmed.

Five million people will be able to access the network at launch, with Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh set to be added as O2 aims to add another two million every month.

EE is the UK’s only current 4G operator after it was given permission to use its 1.8GHz spectrum for LTE, but O2 is the first of its rivals to reveal its plans for a competing service after the 800MHz band was finally cleared of television services earlier this week.

O2 4G launch

O2 4GO2 won 20MHz of the 800MHz bandwidth in the Ofcom 4G spectrum earlier this year at a cost of £550 million. As part of the deal, O2 is obliged to extend coverage to 98 percent of the UK population and 95 percent of the populations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The 800MHz band is considered particularly valuable because of the considerable range it offers, while the 2.6GHz band offers greater capacity for faster speeds, particularly in urban areas. O2 won no 2.6GHz spectrum, prompting suggestions it could be interested in becoming a mobile partner of BT.

EE 4G’s head-start has afforded it a considerable advantage, with its network now covering 95 towns and cities, but O2 is convinced it’s offering will be able to compete from launch.

4G potential

“It’s great that I am able to announce O2 4G the day after the spectrum has been cleared for use,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO of Telefonica UK. “It is our intention to use 4G to inspire the nation through the possibilities of technology, encouraging people to live more, do more and be more with O2.”

O2 4G will be available to pay-monthly customers on plans starting from £26 a month and on a SIM-only basis from launch, with pay-as-you-go introduced later on. Business customers will also be offered tariffs for tablets and mobile broadband from day one, as well as mobile Wi-Fi services in the coming weeks.

“I believe that 4G is not only going to transform the way businesses work, but also how services are delivered to customers,” added Ben Dowd, business director at O2. “Start-ups and small businesses should also be considering the benefits 4G offers in terms of agility and being able to engage with their customers in new ways.

“We will be working with our business customers over the coming months to bring the possibilities of 4G to life, but urgent commitment from businesses and the public sector is also required for its true value to be realised.”

Increased competition

O2’s arrival on the 4G scene has been cautiously welcomed, particularly as Vodafone and Three do not plan to launch services until later this year, while EE’s pricing scheme has been subject to some criticism.

“O2 is playing catch up when it comes to availability – launching to just three cities initially – so we must wait to see if EE’s lengthy head start is enough to keep its edge as the 4G market leader,” said Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at uSwitch. “It’s likely there will be other teething problems for O2. Its 4G network won’t be available on the biggest phone of last month – the iPhone 5 – and its lowest-priced plan seems unlikely to be as cheap as EE’s.

“Until we know what £26 gets you, we don’t know if O2 will bring true competition to the market. But any other providers in the 4G market are incredibly welcome, and O2 is just the first of a wave of other big providers set to launch the service. As more players continue to enter the market, we hope the cost of 4G will fall.”

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