EE has had nearly a year to build up a strong 4G network, but now O2 and Vodafone have hit the scene and Three will be launching before the end of the year. In other words the competition is truly beginning, so has EE made good use of the last year or is it in danger of falling behind? Read on to find out where each network stands and how their future prospects look.
Three – The Underdogs
Three is arriving a little late to the 4G battle, as its 4G network won’t be launched until December. That puts Three at least 3 months behind O2 and Vodafone and over a year behind EE in terms of launch dates.
But launch dates aren’t everything and Three has a few tricks up its sleeve. First of all it looks likely that Three will have caught up with O2 and Vodafone in terms of coverage by this time next year. The network plans to roll 4G out to London, Birmingham and Manchester on day one and to 50 cities by the end of 2014. By the end of 2015 Three aims to have brought 4G to 98% of the UK population - which is the same target as O2 and Vodafone have.
But the real key to Three’s potential success is its tariffs. The networks prices will be staying the same and customers that already have a Three contract and a 4G-ready phone will be upgraded to 4G automatically, making things as seamless and easy as possible. Remarkably Three is also standing by its unlimited data tariffs, making it the only network to offer unlimited 4G in the UK.
Three also already has a number of 4G-ready handsets available, including big hitters like the iPhone 5 and HTC One.
O2 and Vodafone – The Contenders
O2 and Vodafone both have large, well established networks and both launched 4G on the same day (the 29th of August). Both networks also seem to have similar coverage and expansion plans, with an aim to bring 4G to 13 cities by the end of the year and 98% of the UK by the end of 2015.
In terms of pricing Vodafone seem the more compelling choice on the whole, as the network provides more data than O2 (or for that matter EE) at most price points, though once Three launches its 4G network it’s likely to undercut Vodafone.
In terms of 4G phone selection there’s little to choose. Vodafone offers slightly more handsets than O2, but both networks have most of the more popular high end handsets, the notable exception being the iPhone 5, which only works on EE and Three’s 4G networks.
Both networks also have a selection of extra perks for 4G subscribers. Vodafone offers free Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile, while O2 gives customers access to ‘Priority Moments’ - which encompasses various deals and vouchers, as well as ‘O2 Tracks’ which gives customers access to the latest chart hits and ‘O2 Sports’ which contains sports and fitness videos. O2’s selection is reasonable, but Vodafone’s seems better value, which along with pricing gives Vodafone an edge over O2.
4GEE – The Reigning Champion
Unsurprisingly EE is currently in the strongest position when it comes to 4G. With coverage in over 100 towns and cities (equating to 60% of the UK population) and double speed 4G now available in 20 cities, EE has a huge head start in terms of coverage. That head start is likely to continue till around the end of 2015 when all the networks coverage should even out.
Despite its head start though EE doesn’t have any more 4G devices available than Vodafone, leaving all the networks fairly equal for selection, aside from the fact that only EE (and soon Three) are able to offer the iPhone 5 on 4G.
EE’s prices aren’t great either, roughly matching O2 for the highest pricing out there. Thanks to EE’s extensive coverage the network is better able to justify high prices than anyone else, but whether customers will see it like that is another matter entirely.
EE does at least provide a few extras in the form of 2-for-1 cinema tickets, free access to BT and Virgin Media Wi-Fi hotspots and a choice of music streaming through Deezer, access to EE Mobile TV, or two free game downloads per month.
Right now EE is undeniably on top, but thanks to uncompetitive pricing that may not last. Vodafone and Three both undercut EE and Three even offer unlimited data, which is something consumers have been crying out for.
A year or two down the line, unless EE makes some drastic changes to its approach, Three is likely to be the best 4G network with Vodafone close behind. O2 meanwhile has launched with a whimper, thanks to weak extras and high pricing, leaving it in the worst position of all.
By Kevin Thomas on 02nd September, 2013
By Kevin Thomas on 02nd September, 2013