Phone rivals join 4G mobile battle
Mobile networks O2 and Vodafone are squaring up to rival firm EE as they launch their 4G data services.
O2 will switch on its high-speed broadband in London, Leeds and Bradford, reaching up to five million people from the launch, while Vodafone will roll out its service in parts of the capital.
Both networks plan to provide 4G coverage to 98% of the population but they also face a battle to catch up with EE, which has offered "superfast" 4G mobile data in the UK since last October and announced it had reached 100 towns earlier this week.
The two latest companies to enter the race hope to have network coverage in 13 cities by the end of the year. These include London, Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Meanwhile, mobile network Three plans to put pressure on its competitors when it rolls out its own high-speed broadband later in the year. The firm promised its service would be available across all price plans, meaning customers would not need to pay a premium fee to upgrade.
4G - fourth generation networks - can provide data to smartphone users on average six times faster than 3G connections, Vodafone said. The company spent £802 million when it bid for part of the mobile phone spectrum to provide 4G, while O2 spent £550 million to buy a proportion of the lowest frequency spectrum.
Guy Laurence, chief executive of Vodafone UK, said 4G was a "step change" that would allow people to watch football matches or download thousands of songs from services such as Spotify on the go. He said Vodafone had already signed up 20,000 customers to the new service.
"The opportunity to watch football... while you are waiting for something, you are stood at the bus stop, you are at the dentist in the waiting room, you can watch a game live now on 4G and people will flock to that," he told Sky News. "So I think adoption will be far faster than 3G, which was 10 years ago, because people didn't really know how to use it. It is no good trying to sell technology to people, you have to sell something they want, and they want entertainment."
He added that 4G uses old television frequencies which would allow the signal to penetrate into houses far more effectively than 3G. New planning laws would also allow the firm to erect transmitters in areas it could not before, he said.
"By the end of 2015 we will have 98% coverage. To give you an idea, only 98.4% of dwellings have running water. So 98% is very high indeed."