O2 has fired the starting gun on a 4G war, with it earmarking London, Leeds and Bradford as its launch cities for the end of August and placing music and gaming at the centre of its proposition.
Up to five million people will be able to sign up to 4G from 29 August, considerably behind the 11 cities that EE launched in when it went live last October. O2 hopes to bring 4G to an additional two million people per month and offer the service in 13 cities by the end of the year - London, Leeds, Bradford, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh. It is the second operator to announce its 4G plans after EE but Mobile understands Vodafone will reveal its 4G strategy next week.
Around 20 4G handsets will be available, with tariffs beginning from £26 per month for a Sim-only deal, compared to £21 for EE's entry level Sim-only offer. O2 said further details about its price plans will be revealed in the coming weeks but the operator will price 4G at a premium, following EE's lead. While it has opted for a more expensive starting point for 4G, O2 is promising to 'bring to life the digital experience for consumers', with 12 months free music content for those who buy direct from the operator. O2 already offers consumers the ability to stream the Top 40 singles through its O2 Tracks service and sponsors a range of concert venues across the country. Businesses will be offered tariffs for 4G enabled tablets and mobile broadband from launch, with mobile wi-fi units available in the coming weeks.
To back the launch, O2 has prepared an instore and social media campaign to try and encourage customers to be '#O24G' ready. Customers will be able to buy a 4G ready handset and SIM card from today [1 August]. O2's Gurus will advise customers on the best handsets and tariffs and O2 business account managers will advise enterprises on best plans.
O2 is expected to position itself as the go-to network for consistency of coverage and services such as exclusive music and gaming content. CEO Ronan Dunne has previously said that the potential of 4G has yet to be realised and will only be determined by consumers as it becomes a mass market proposition. Tesco customers will be allowed to launch its own 4G service, although it will be up to the supermarket whether it decides to move into that space.
O2's play raises pressure on Vodafone, who has earmarked a late summer launch for its own 4G plans. EE has signed up more than 700,000 customers since last October and is targeting one million 4G customers by the end of the year. Three has said its 4G service will be brought online during the fourth quarter of this year but will be used to bolster its Ultrafast network.
O2's CEO Ronan Dunne said: 'It’s great that I am able to announce O2 4G the day after the spectrum has been cleared for use. Digital connectivity will be made ubiquitous by 4G and become the oxygen of modern life. 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.
'The full potential of 4G is as yet unexplored, but what we can be sure of is that it will allow for a whole new world of opportunity that people are now ready for. Over half of our customers say they use more data than two years ago and even more use wi-fi wherever they go, to always stay connected. Given this trend, there is no doubt that 4G will transform our lives, be it as consumers, in business or through public sector services.'
Blog: The 4G race starts now
Author: Graeme Neill