13:05 07 November 2012
The fourth generation (4G) mobile service has finally arrived in the UK - having already gone live in 11 cities, with six more to follow by the end of the year - and it brings with it the promise of faster, more secure internet communications.
Anyone using the service can now expect connection speeds of between 8 and 12Mbps (megabits per second for the uninitiated), which is up to five times faster than the current third generation (3G) technology and even better than some of the fixed broadband services currently out there. The increase in download speeds served up by the 4G service will allow for high-quality streaming of audio, video and other content through mobile devices.
However, 4G will only be available to customers who sign up to the EE network (formerly Everything Everywhere, the parent company of Orange and T-Mobile) until the conclusion of a spectrum auction that will take place in spring next year.
This is because Ofcom has controversially allowed EE to run the next-generation service using its existing bandwidth while rival networks must wait until they can take their place on the new frequencies that sit between 800MHz and 2.6Ghz.
This means that anyone on Vodafone, O2 or any other mobile provider will not be able to benefit from the service until 2013 and, in another twist for the rival networks, the iPhone 5 is not compatible with the new frequencies but is compatible with the 1800MHz band, which is being used by EE.
The only other UK provider that may be able to offer 4G services to iPhone 5 users is 3, which recently bought some of EE's spectrum, but it is not allowed to launch this service until September 2013.
All of which has combined to provide a major coup for EE as the company now hopes to poach customers from other networks - but the fight back has already begun and Vodafone is being particularly bullish in its assertion that its service will be well worth the wait.
So what exactly is Vodafone doing to retain the loyalty of its existing customers against EE's enticing overtures? Let's take a look.
Vodafone's 4G coverage
After initially proposing to mount legal action against EE over the fact it was allowed to operate 4G service months before they could, O2 and Vodafone decided against this when Ofcom agreed to change the 4G timetable to allow both operators to launch services in spring 2013 instead of autumn 2013.
Vodafone is also confident that its 4G coverage will be superior to that offered by EE, particularly when it comes to indoor coverage as it intends to use the 800MHz frequency, which travels further into buildings than any of the other frequencies on offer.
And it looks like a drop in signal strength once indoors could be a problem for EE customers. This is something that Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent briefly refers to in this report on the launch of 4G in the UK.
Vodafone has also been preparing and upgrading its network, to the tune of £1.8million per day, to ensure that its customers do not experience any loss in speed or quality of service once the 4G service is up and running and it aims to provide indoor coverage to 98% of the UK population by 2015.
As part of these preparations, Vodafone bought Cable & Wireless Worldwide earlier this year which means it now owns more fibre than any other mobile network along which it can move data across its network.
What else is Vodafone offering?
One major stumbling block in getting people to sign up to the 4G service could be that it requires users to buy into a whole new infrastructure that will require not only a new phone but also a new, and probably more expensive, tariff.
The cheapest tariff currently on offer from EE is a 24-month contract that comes with 500MB of data and unlimited calls and texts for £36 per month.
The most expensive comes in at a wince-inducing £56 per month and offers 8GB of data as well as unlimited calls and texts.
Then there's the new handset to consider and this can go from getting a free Huawei Ascend P1 LTE on all of the EE 24-month contracts bar the £36 per month contract, up to £379.99 for an iPhone 5 64GB. Then, the HTC One XL and Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE sit somewhere in between at £149.99.
In recognition of these added costs, Vodafone is launching a 4G phone promise which will allow existing pay monthly and small business customers to swap their current handset for a 4G compatible one and have 70% knocked off any remaining contract charges - meaning that they won't have to pay up all of their current contract or buy a new handset to get connected to the 3G network.
This deal runs for over a year and customers who have been with Vodafone for at least three months and who purchased a Samsung Galaxy S3 on or after October 26, 2012, or have recently purchased an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 have until December 31, 2013 to take advantage of the offer.
For more information on Vodafone's 4G phone promise, click here.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.
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