But the company is confident it can beat O2 in the numbers stakes in two ways: firstly, by offering to buy out the contracts of customers who bought iPhone 5s before June or Samsung Galaxy S3s/Note IIs before April, because those models won’t work on its 4G network.
Secondly, by bundling 4G contracts in with either a Sky Sports package or a Spotify digital music streaming package. (As a side note, it’s an interesting move: after Samsung offered a million owners of its devices Jay-Z’s new album for free, perhaps the business model record labels have been searching for is to become a bargaining tool for mobile phone operators and manufacturers trying to win market share. And to think all AXA offers is a free Parker pen…).
While Vodafone is has a definite date for the launch of its London 4G coverage, it is ‘very chilled’ (in the words of UK chief exec Guy Laurence) about the speed at which it rolls out its network to the other 13 cities it has vowed to cover by the end of the year (coincidentally, the same 13 cities O2 plans to cover. We see what it’s doing there…). It pointedly said it was doing ‘stringent’ quality tests in each of the 13 cities.
A comparison of the two shows just how competitive life is for mobile phone operators in the UK. For both, the cheapest package will be similar, at £26 a month – although Vodafone’s will start off unlimited, and switch after three months to a 2GB, 4GB or 8GB download limit.
Vodafone says it has spent £550m on its 4G spectrum and £600m on upgrading its network, while O2 has spent £802m, and £900m on upgrading its network. O2 should achieve average speeds of six megabits per second, while Vodafone will achieve five (although in reality, if UK broadband speeds are anything to go by, it’ll be more like 0.5 for both).
O2 said it will also offer music streaming, although it hasn’t clarified the details of what exactly that means. It was said to be in talks with The Sun to get access to Premier League football highlights, but those fell apart.
Forget petty rivalry, though: the one to beat in this market is EE, which launched its 4G offering to much fanfare 10 months ago and now covers 38 million people in 96 towns and cities. It reckons it will have its millionth subscriber by the end of the year.
So if Vodafone really wants to flash its packages around, EE is the one to beat. In the meantime, though, perhaps Vodafone, O2 et al might want to put a bit of effort into sorting their 3G networks out, too. There are parts of central London which still don’t have coverage. That might be worth looking into before they charge into the hitherto-unexplored realms of 4G…