Chief executive of Vodafone UK Guy Laurence says 4G is a "step change"

Vodafone and O2 4G signals go live today

Mobile networks O2 and Vodafone are squaring up to rival firm EE as they launch their 4G data services today.

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 per cent of the population but they also face a battle to catch up with EE, which has offered "super-fast" 4G mobile data in the UK since last October and announced it had reached 100 towns earlier this week.

4G – fourth generation networks – can provide data to smartphone users on average six times faster than 3G connections, Vodafone said.

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 per cent coverage. To give you an idea, only 98.4 per cent of dwellings have running water. So 98 per cent is very high indeed."

Vodafone spent £802m when it bid for part of the mobile phone spectrum to provide 4G, while O2 spent £550m to buy a proportion of the lowest frequency spectrum.

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.

Ernest Doku, telecoms expert at comparison site uSwitch.com, said: "When it comes to coverage, EE wins hands down; the other networks certainly have some catching up to do. But while Vodafone and O2 can't compete on coverage or match EE's touted average speed of 24Mbps, they will be trying to win over customers from today with a selection of perks."

He said some consumers may now choose to "play the waiting game" to take advantage of Three's service when it launches at the end of the year in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

"While pricing between current competition looks pretty similar across the board, Three certainly intends to spark a price war," he said.

"While there is certainly much more than simply the monthly cost to consider when making the decision, coverage is key when choosing the right network, we hope that networks begin to fight with a little more heart in order to convince customers in making the leap to 4G."

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