4G rollout: How far are O2, Three and Vodafone behind EE?

News 7 Aug, 2013

Updated: O2 and Vodafone confirm 29 August as 4G launch date

Network provider EE has a mammoth head-start on its rivals when it comes to high-speed 4G in the UK, with the service now active in 95 towns and cities across the UK.

But how are the other major players getting on with the deployment of 4G and when can customers expect to start using it?

O2, Three and Vodafone had to battle in out in an Ofcom auction to buy spectrum which will allow them to provide 4G services. The results were made public on 20 February and we take a look at where they are at a month on.

O2 – The network has announced its 4G network will be switched on starting on the 29 August in London, Leeds and Bradford. The network claims 5 million people will have access to the high-speed internet on launch.

O2 plans to have 4G activated in 13 cities by the end of 2013. These include - London, Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Price plans for 4G services will start at £26 per month. O2 told IT Pro that it will be releasing more details on tariffs later this month. The operator said it's "committed to making 4G accessible to as many people as possible".

O2 is also offering a 30-day “Happiness Guarantee” so users can switch back to 3G is they are unhappy with the service they are being provided.

There is one catch – current iPhone 5 devices only work with EE’s 4G network because they only frequency support in the UK is the 1800MHz spectrum.

Customers who bought an iPhone 5 from O2 between September and 31 March 2013 will have to upgrade their contract. O2 will offer a discount of 25 per cent on the remaining balance. Users who want to use 4G will have a choice between HTC One, BlackBerry Q10, Samsung Galaxy S4, Nokia Lumia 925 and Sony Xperia Z.

The network spent £550 million in the auction, securing 2 x 10MHz of the 800MHz spectrum. O2 claims this frequency is the farthest reaching out of all those used in the UK and will provide the best indoor coverage. Ofcom has set the operator a target of covering 98 per cent of the UK indoors by 2017 as part of the terms of its license.

Three – The UK arm of Hutchison Whampoa purchased some spectrum from EE at the back-end of 2012, but will not be able to use it until September 2013. The network also took part in the 4G auction – winning bids for 2 x 5 MHz of 800MHz spectrum.

Shortly afterwards, Three claimed on its website that it would launch 4G in Spring 2013. The operator also made the announcement that it would not charge users extra for the high-speed internet service, the only provider to take this route.

However, Dave Dyson, CEO of Three, claimed earlier this week that 4G services would be launched at the end of 2013 at the earliest. This is likely to make it the last of the big four networks to launch.

Dyson claimed the firm’s latest 3G services are comparable to early versions of LTE and that users are more concerned with having all-you-can-eat allowances, which the firm specialises in, rather than all-out speed.

Vodafone – Splashing out a total of £790 million in Ofcom's auction, Vodafone secured a third of the low frequency 800MHz spectrum along with some higher-frequency spectrum to boost its existing network infrastructure.

The company looks set to go toe-to-toe with rival operator O2, after announcing on 7 August that it will be switching on its 4G network on 29 August, too.

The superfast network will go live on 29 August in London, before being switched on in 12 more cities before the end of 2013.

The cities will include Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Vodafone has confirmed the pricing of its 12-month, SIM-only 4G plans will start from £26 a month, which will also provide users with 2GB of data. 4GB and 8GB data plans will also be available for £31 and £36 a month, respectively.

For the first six months, 4G Vodafone customers will be offered unlimited data through the firm's Data Test Drive initiative.

Customers that upgrade to one of its 4G plans will  also have access to either Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile TV, as an extra incentive to get them to upgrade.

Phones4U – In a surprise move, retailier Phones 4U launched a virtual 4G network using EE's infrastructure. Life Mobile debuted in March, and currently offers users 2G/3G. However, there are plans to upgrade it to 4G later in the year.

EE – The amalgamation between T-Mobile and Orange has had a head-start over its rivals, and is now available in 95 towns/cities in the UK. Initially, there were concerns about the low-allowances and high-prices and EE was forced to cut prices in an attempt to attract users.

The latest areas which have had 4G greenlit include Bradford, Bingley, Doncaster, Dudley, Harpenden, Leicester, Lichfield, Loughborough, Luton, Reading, Shipley, St Albans and West Brom.

EE plans to rollout 4G to 70 per cent of the UK population by the end of 2013, and 98 per cent of the population by the end of 2014.

The network also claims that its 4G is up to five times faster than 3G. IT Pro carried out a field test pitting the 4G network against 3G in central London and the results were surprising.

Have you switched network to get 4G early, or are you willing to wait for your operator to launch the service in your area? Let us know below.

Disqus - noscript

definitely going with 3 !!

I just moved from Vodafone to EE as I was fed up with the 3G service Vodafone offered in central London (Full 3G signal but no data download!!), I'm now with EE and find the 4G service offered satisfies my data need's being able to tether devices through my iPhone is a huge benefit and not incurring additional charges for this is great!, Glad I made the early switch and happy to pay the additional cost for this.

Been with 3 for years, and since real unlimited data arrived, I haven't even considered another mobile operator.
Dyson is totally correct in my case, I'm more bothered about data limits than speed, though speed must be fast enough to stream video in a good quality, which for me it has been.
Orange have lost two of my friends to 3 in the last couple of months when I told them how many minutes I get compared to other networks. The unlimited data definately influenced their decision though.

Waiting for O2-UK release…
Vodafone charge for going over your monthly data limit; O2 simply limit your bandwidth.
Three (3) provide a weak signal in my area.

Additionally, O2 offer some kick-ass deals simply for being a loyal O2 customer.

wp8 has no appzz and no gamezz

wp8 never again

wp8 the biggest flop since vista and KIN phone

i dont like old tech old spec phones

we want specs not fisher price phones

And this has anything to do with that comment, out this post how?

4g does not intrest me. I will stay with three and if it speeds up bonus as I tether a lot on the road. Happy with I got.

3G with EE has been down in my area for over a week with no explanation, help or answers from EE — couldn't care less about 4G, just want the 3G I'm paying for to work first!

Wait for o2, voda or three peeps EE is the worst service i have ever been on! Not to mention cs are disgusting.

well three is just fantastic
yes there customer service can be poor at times
but as for the internet the speed its a BIG WOW!!
i got the galaxy s4 from them with all you can eat data and they also allow you to tether to a pc
i get pings of about 55ms so its gr8 for gaming and download speeds peaking at 24 meg with an average speed of 15 meg which is 2 times faster than my g/f broadband

Three is ridiculously good. People keep mentioning that their CS is bad but I found it really helpful.

My speeds are really good considering i am using a 2 year old phone iphone 4s. 4.36 mbps just now. I am more than happy as it takes me maybe 5 seconds before it starts playing a video stream of more than 500 mb. That's not bad at all. The minutes, the speed and the phones are all good.

4G could be good but an extra 5 mbps would not bother me. its improvement but you expect that in a competitive market and innovative fields like tech.

my friends on EE are paying £10 more for much much less. after all, whats the point of having a really fast connection and using it all up in the first week. BTW i use about 20 gb a week on streaming videos and live tv on my way to work. Three, never change your model. It is pretty much perfect

got the z10 on EE on glasgow and just clocked 42mpbs!!! shame theres no unlimited data but at least its capped.

Three is fantastic unlimited data is great and tethering works great at no extra cost.i would recommend three to anyone and if their I but later rolling out 4g so be it. Their service is so good at the minute that waiting is not a problem.

Three are a good netwrok until something goes wrong and then I found them to be an Awful company with cusotmer service. They migh be cheap but you get what you pay for!

Unlimited data only on 3G at the moment, have no interest in 4g whilst that applies. It won't be long before EE start hobbling their 3G network and blame that on the need for 4g services. That's my forecast.

Not strictly true.. True if your talking about Orange in particular and T-Mobile but as a 'new' network CS are great. British call centres only makes a huge difference. How many other networks can shout that? Plus EE are doubling the speed of their 4g network in September. Up to 60mbps! No one can touch EE for 4g experience.

Im with Three at the minute and the service is great. They claim their internet speeds are effectively 3.9G, but with 4G rolling out (hopefully) later this year at no extra cost, i'm more than willing to give it a go!

I'm with t-mobile on 3G unlimited data, I steam iplayer at night sometimes and have no intention of going on a data limited plan. I will consider going to 3 on an unlimited 4G plan when my contract is up - if there is no reasonably fixed price unlimited 4G on EE at that time.

None of the suppliers supply a decent 3g or HSDPA or HDPA+ service in rural areas of Northern Ireland I'm thinking specifically of the Northern corridor / North Coast, Voda has dome 3g but its hit and miss as is O2 and three's staff always say they'll have masts up soon but it never happens. EE's coverage is only 2g as is Virgin's coverage. I wish the networks would pay attention to Sales figures for Hardware NI is 25% ahead of rest of UK in terms of tablet sales !!!

After EE told me they would never offer unlimited data I took a Nexus 4 on 3. Get HSDPA+ locally which is typically over 10mbps and allows me to be online to my heart's content. My daughter now has a Note 2 with 3 and is ecstatic with her deal. Why bother with restricted 4G deals when we can have this now at 3G prices?

Im staying with 3. 1.5 years into contract. The one plan 5000 three to three minutes. 2000 any mins. 5000 texts. Truelly Unlimited internet. Downloads. Tethering. And all for £22 a month. I spoke with 3 before taking contract and said are there hidden costs. They told me no. Truelly unlimited only network with no fair use policy. After 1.5 years, i can safely say stuck to there word. Never charged a penny more.
Changed as my old home isp had crazy low speeds and they also lied about pricing which they kept changing. In mistakes. I got fed up being on the phone every 5 mins to sort.
So with all this i got galaxy note 2 7105 lte so i could take advantage of their 3.9g ultrafast. Which unlike 4g is actually available where i live and villages, etc.
Considering was getting 1mb on home isp. 3 gave me 3-7mbps. Now get 12-29mbps on ultrafast and in my area as per speed test and various other speed test sites. Same when i test from tether to pc. Also with 3 promising all the same pricing and offers when moving to 4g.
I think its safe to say ill be staying with 3 for a very long time. (Providing they stay true to there word). I even bought the 3 note 2 as no intention of moving. I refuse to pay ee's 8gb data plan for 4g when 1. Its way too expensive. 2. Its too low data. 3. I get 29mbps anyway on ultrafast. And 4. I cant even get it in my area which is what matters to me.

i am already with three...and other network they doing too much tarrif for 4g and price plan and all are really expensive...

Just bought an EXperia z with 4G from Ee. It is incredibly fast, but the download limit is ridiculous. For 35 quid a month I get a couple of gigs. You can use that in one night just surfing YouTube. I'm beginning to wonder what the point is. I might as well buy a personal WiFi dongle. It's much much cheaper. I think I might be cancelling this contract in the next few days. 4G is great, but what is the point of it if you can't fully exploit the new speed without effectively bankrupting yourself for the privilege? Stupid, greedy providers get it wrong yet again.

Funny you say this. I called O2 to cancel. They asked why, I stated that they don't do O2 open for iphone 5s and have had several network blackouts, without an apology. She just said "oh, you want your PAC code then?"... No offers, not trying to save a customer of 4 years - we don't matter to them, loyalty is irrelevant.

My advice - stay away from Murdochs O2 ;)

so u can eat up 20GB of data in few days- awesome!

3 best by far signal has improved too... Exactly super fast 2 gb allowance what's the point

I'd just like to make/receive a call without constantly loosing the other party. I am less than 400m from the mast and the signal is & always has been complete pants! O2, orange, etc are the same ? AFAIK the mast has insufficient capacity.
4g ? Don't make me laugh!

EE are greedy money grabbing rouges.. I can get a service for half the cost from O2 cheap and cheerful, also the lowest roaming charges of any network..pay as you go, no nasty bills..

I remain perplexed about my purchase of a New iPad 4G 64Gb. I did not rush to change my contract until it came up for renewal but was confident that I was perfectly placed to get 4G. However, like others posting here, I am not getting 41+Mb. I am very lucky if I get 20Mbits/s and have to be in the centre of the city to get it. I have had an endless number of mystery telephone discussions with EE and with Apple and I still am not clear whether now, in July 2014, I am actually getting 4G speed on my device or is my device just called 4G. EE upgraded my contract to 4G. When we were discussing it on the phone they knew what the equipment was.

When I spoke to Apple I was told that the wording on the box label MD368B/A iPad Wi-Fi 4g 64GB Black is just the name of the product and not any indication that it is a 4G device. I am incensed by this interpretation and would only like to know am I getting 4G or was I effectively misled. What Apple's claim amounts to is like saying that this bottle on which are the words Scotch Whiskey doesnt mean the bottle actually contains Scotch Whiskey distilled in Scotland; its just a name. Perhaps that is what it is with this iPad Model A1430.

If 4G is an umbrella term then everyone referring to 4G should be referring to the same thing from the perspective of consumers otherwise how are we to tell if the description on the box is just a name or the specific model it implies it is. And in so far as it is implied what is in the box then that is the contract is it not? The contract of sale where I relied on the representation made to me on which I entered into the contract of sale. As far as I'm concerned when I bought the iPad Wi-Fi 4G 64GB I made a deal with Apple that is legally a contract. Apple made an offer, I accepted. My consideration was the price paid for what appeared to be in the box. Now I might have it all wrong (look at what others are saying. Are we all wrong to say we were misled?) so maybe someone here who knows about this 'confusion' could enlighten me.

As an aside. the person who mentioned how good Three is, is right. They are prepared to grind their knuckles off to get the business and the support people are really helpful. Unbelievably so. I was dealing with an issue when other things overtook the conversation and I needed to just end the call because of anotehr priority but the guy at Three went through hoops to get my situation resolved with the minimal impact on my time. I lost the call with him twice and he was straight back to me each time. Fully resolved problem - he found all the solutions to make it work for me. Now that is not my past experience with Three. I did join once before and switched back again to my old service within 4 days, so huge improvements at that company. One to try I would say. If I could get out of my EE contract now I would go to Three. I just put this for the record so others can take a view on what people say about different companies. I guess that is why we end up on sites like this!

Read more about: