4G: When is it coming to the UK?

​News stories for 4G: When is it coming to the UK?

4G is now available now in the UK network from EE, O2 and Vodafone on a selection of high-end phones and tablets.

Three has announced that it will launch 4G services later this year in December.  

Following the 4G auction, O2, Three and Vodafone won spectrum to launch services in the UK, while EE now has extra capacity to expand its network

All networks have promised to provide indoor 4G coverage to 98 per cent of the UK's population by 2015 and outdoor 4G coverage to over 99 per cent by the same date. This will be aided in some part by the government's £150 million Mobile Infrastructure Project.

4G: When is it coming to the UK and how much will it cost?
O2's network app for Android lets you check for 4G coverage in your area

As EE was given the go-ahead from Ofcom to launch 4G on the 1800MHz band in October 2012 and has so far launched 4G services in 100 locations across the UK. 

Thanks largely to the head start it's been given, EE is expecting to have reached 98 per cent of the UK with 4G by the end of 2014. 

How much does 4G mobile broadband cost?

EE 

For pay-as-you go 4G mobile broadband, £15.99/month will get you 3GB, £20.99/month will get you 5GB and £25.99/month will get you 8GB. 

O2 

O2 has yet to reveal any prices or details for 4G mobile broadband services. 

Vodafone 

Vodafone is offering 12 and 24 month 4G pay monthly plans and 12 month SIM-only plans but hasn't revealed any mobile broadband plans so far. 

Three 

Three has made a price promise for its 4G services, saying that it's not going to charge any more than it currently does for 3G. From this we can assume that 4G mobile broadband from Three will cost £8.889/month for 1GB of data and £17.01/month for 15GB of data. Costs for dongles and MiFi haven't yet been discussed. 

What are my other options? 

Read our features for more information on EE’s 4G prices for mobile and mobile broadband.

When buying new phones, laptops or SIM cards for use with 4G-compatible dongles (like Option’s Beemo) on contract, we’re expecting there to be a dent for early adopters.

But with data now the big deal when it comes to contracts, we expect that healthy competition will eventually drive prices down. 

What about Freeview customers? I heard 4G is going to screw up Freeview.

Due to some terrible planning about five years ago, some areas where the Freeview signal and the 4G 800MHz signals are too close together. 

Thankfully due to the efforts of At800.tv, an organisation jointly funded by the mobile networks, any interference caused by 4G is likely to be kept to a minimum.

It was once predicted that 4G would wipe out Freeview for 1.9 million viewers but trials have suggested it's not going to be as bad as all that. Nothing to see here, people. 

Anyone with Freeview or any digital terrestrial-based TV service (like YouView, TalkTalk TV or BT Vision) will be eligible for a 4G signal filter. This attaches to your aeriel and will tune out any 4G interference. 

It's estimated that filters won't work in a small number of homes. In situations like this, people will be able to apply for free TV delivered either via Freesat or via Virgin Media cable.

In circumstances where neither of these solutions is applicable, up to £10,000 per household can be claimed to allow for “alternative ways of restoring reception,” in the words of Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries. 

Why has 4G taken so long to come to the UK?

The rollout process of 4G in the UK has been long and protracted, largely because the networks have disagreed over prior Ofcom proposals.

O2 has been conducting live trials of 4G and Orange and T-Mobile (under Everything Everywhere) has been lobbying hard to launch 4G ahead of the auction.

This has been challenged most vocally by Three, which has threatened legal action if this went ahead.

Part of the deal to allow Orange and T-Mobile to merge into Everything Everywhere was that Three, as the smallest network, would be given access to extra 3G masts and a portion of the 1800MHz spectrum licence (most of which is owned by Everything Everywhere) would have to be sold off in the 4G auction.

Factor in consultations on the Freeview issue and you’ve got a recipe for a big fat delay cake.

4G: When is it coming to the UK and how much will it cost?

4G: What next?

The mobile operators have all been preparing their networks in anticipation of winning something, but it's likely that it will take some time to reach into all of the UK's nooks and crannies. 

It's a finger-in-the-wind guess, but we'd say that most of the networks will have around 50 per cent of the UK population covered when they launch services. 

Also, you should note that if you bought a ‘4G’ model of the new iPad, then it won’t work when 4G comes to the UK. This is because US 4G broadcasts on a different frequency than those earmarked for 4G in the UK. 

Same goes if you were to buy a UK 4G mobile broadband dongle - it wouldn't work when you took your laptop to the States.

Previous news stories on 4G: When is it coming to the UK?

4G: Three triggers superfast price war with EE

Three triggers superfast price war with EE

Three is a way off launching it’s own 4G services in the UK but that hasn’t stopped it from declaring a price war on EE.

The numerically-named network has boldly stated that it won’t hike prices once it rolls out 4G.

Three UK chief executive Dave Dyson said “We don’t want to limit [4G] services to a select few based on a premium price and we’ve decided our customers will get this service as standard.”

EE launched its 4G services with some quite eyebrow-raising prices. Later on, EE updated its tariffs with some extra data, but kept the costs the same.

Three's mobile broadband plans currently work out at £7.97/month for 1GB or data and £15.99/month for 15GB. For mobile customers this is even better news, as you'll be able to tuck into All You Can Eat unlimited data. 

As well as preparing for 4G, Three is also busy rolling out ‘Ultrafast’ 3G speeds. By the end of March 2013, 80 per cent customers will be able to benefit from speeds of up to 42Mbps. 4G is theoretically capable of delivering download speeds of 100Mbps, but as we’ve seen ourselves, in busy environments where lots of people are using the network at once, this equates to an average speed of 30Mbps.

It’s expected that Three will launch 4G services sometime in the summer, once the long-awaited auction comes to a close and spectrum has been awarded. Let's hope that the price war is a success and that O2 and Vodafone follow suit.

February 4, 2013

O2, Vodafone, EE and Three could swap your 2G and 3G for LTE

O2, Vodafone, EE and Three may be able to use their existing spectrum to deliver 4G (aka LTE) services in the UK.

Ofcom has announced plans to free up the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2.1GHz radio bands for 4G - currently used to deliver 2G, 3G and (in the case of EE) 4G services.

This could mean if you’ve got pretty good 3G signal on your network where you are now, you could be in line for 4G reception in the future, but your 3G might suffer.

4G: Ofcom could free up O2, Vodafone, EE and Three spectrum for LTE

Currently, networks aren’t allowed to launch 4G on all of these bands. Vodafone and Three had requested that the regulatory constraints stopping these bands being used for 4G be removed.

This announcement comes ahead of the conclusion of the 4G auction, where the networks will be bidding for parts of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. These two bands will be exclusively used for 4G.

Meaning, if the networks do decide to use existing spectrum (the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2.1GHz) for 4G, it raises the question what will happen to 2G and 3G.

A second part of the consultation reveals that O2 and Vodafone had previously asked Ofcom to increase the transmission power on the 900MHz band for 3G use, suggesting that these networks intend to keep 900MHz for 3G. O2 and Vodafone also use parts of the 1800MHz band for 2G.

Eventually, 2G signals will be shut down as mobile technology improves. It’s likely that this consultation has been prompted by the networks’ desire to liberalise mobile licences so that there’s no regulatory barriers to cross in the future.

The consultation closes on March 29, 2013 and a statement is expected by the summer, by which time the networks should be preparing to launch their 4G services.

February 1, 2013

Patchy rural mobile reception could be saved by BT

4G: Patchy rural mobile reception could be saved by BTOpenreach has announced plans to go ahead with a technical proof-of-concept trial which could help out with patchy rural mobile reception.

The trials will effectively see BT street cabinets doubling as small cells; mobile networks who want to take part in the trial will be required to ‘provide radio base station equipment suitable to fit within a street cabinet.’

Trialists would also be required to give up permission for BT to “operate the equipment in a given MNO licensed spectrum,” meaning that 4G could be piped out to those in the sticks more easily.

Small cell technology has an effective range of 10 metres to 200 metres, meaning if you’re going to benefit from this you’ll need to be living within spitting distance of a BT cab. It’s no good if you’re living a couple of miles down the road from the nearest one.

Last September, Openreach announced its intentions to extend and strengthen mobile coverage using its infrastructure all across the UK, adding that patchy or non-existent coverage ‘typically [affected] more rural areas.’

The trial will take place next month at BT’s Adastral Park near Ipswich and is open to all mobile networks. Openreach hasn’t mentioned when it expects to publish results of the trial, so we won’t know when to expect to see this kind of service going public - if at all.

EE has promised that 98 per cent of the UK will be able to access its 4G network by the end of 2014. If BT’s trial is a success we could see 4G getting pushed out to that last 2 per cent.

January 30, 2013

BT, O2, EE, Vodafone, Three, HKT and MLL confirmed bidders

Ofcom has announced the official list of 4G bidders.

As expected, all of the UK mobile networks, that’s O2, EE, Vodafone and Three have put in bids for slices of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.

As well as this, business ISP MML Telecom has put in a bid as has HKT, a subsidiary of PCCW, the company which owns Cable & Wireless Worldwide. 

MML has a history of working with the NHS and local authorities and setting up WiMAX and WiFi networks, so we’d expect it to use any 4G it wins for this. Similarly we’d expect HKT UK or Cable & Wireless to use any 4G for business broadband/industry solutions.

There’s no indication from Ofcom specifically which bands everyone’s bidding for but we heard last week that BT was going for some of the 2.6GHz slice.

BT, or rather the brilliantly-named BT Group subsidiary Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited, looks then to be targeting urban dwellers where 2.6GHz will be most effective.

Given that the UK networks will want to provide as much coverage as they can across the country, we think its safe to assume that O2, EE, Three and Vodafone are all plumping for bits of both the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum.

Image credit: Flickr user Carey Tilden

December 20, 2012

MoD confirms monster radio spectrum auction

4G mobile broadband could be first to benefit from a huge sell-off of radio frequencies by the Ministry of Defence.

The auction in 2014 will release around 200MHz at 2.3-2.4GHz and 3.4-3.6GHz, with the lower range especially useful for 4G in urban areas.

The higher range could be useful for microwave backhaul to connect mobile cells, particularly in rural areas, which operators will need to fulfil their promises of full UK coverage.

MoD confirms monster radio spectrum auction - isafmedia/Flickr

Defence minister Philip Dunne said: "The sale will give private operators the opportunity to acquire more capacity to support, for example, the introduction of fourth-generation mobile services to people in cities, towns and villages across the United Kingdom, or to expand wireless access to broadband services, both of which are vital to the UK's prosperity."

Other MoD holdings below 5GHz will be released in the next few years, including paired frequencies in the 800MHz and 900MHz bands, plus stakes around 1.4GHz, 2GHz, and 4.8GHz.

The MoD is Britain’s biggest public spectrum owner, with around three quarters of the total, and a third of spectrum under 15 GHz. A thin slice it holds in the 10GHz region is also expected to be made public.

December 18, 2012 (image isafmedia / Flickr)

EE adding 17 new cities and towns in March 2013

4G: EE adding 17 new cities and towns in March 2013EE has announced the next 17 locations that’ll be covered by its 4G network.

By March 2013, the following locations will be covered by EE 4G: Bradford, Chelmsford, Coventry, Doncaster, Dudley, Leicester, Luton, Newport, Reading, Rotherham, St Albans, Sunderland, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall, Watford, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton.

EE launched 4G back at the end of October, initially deploying it in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and Southampton. Belfast, Hull, Maidenhead and Slough.

EE plans to have 98 per cent of the nation able to access its 4G services by the end of 2014.

December 13, 2012

O2, Vodafone, EE, Three and BT apply to bid

O2, Vodafone, EE, Three and BT bid for 4G spectrumThe UK’s big four mobile operators have applied to bid for new radio channels to launch 4G mobile broadband, with BT also asking for a slice.

O2, Vodafone, EE and Three will all asked for a chunk of the controversial 800MHz frequency band that has long range and penetrates buildings better than current mobile frequencies.

The Financial Times (paywall) says BT has applied for capacity in the 2.6GHz band, which is likely to be cheaper, but could be valuable for short-range communications.

The actual bidding will take place in January - these applications give Ofcom time to check the bidders are genuine and have the resources to see through their promises if they win.

The 800MHz band has become controversial because of the 4G Freeview Fail: it butts onto frequencies uses by Freeview, and botched planning means it may interfere with Freeview reception in some areas.

December 12, 2012

Network bidding applications are now in

The door has now closed on the networks' bids for slices of 4G in the UK.

The slices of 4G in question are the 800MHz and the 2.6GHz bands, which the majority of the networks will be using to launch their next-generation mobile services.

The auction itself has been a long time coming, having been postponed and delayed for a number of reasons. But it’s finally (finally!) happening and soon we’ll be hearing about who has bidded for what part of the airwaves.

Right now, EE - formerly known as Everything Everywhere - has launched 4G services for Orange and T-Mobile customers and technically doesn’t need to bid for any more spectrum.

Neither does Three, which has been gifted a portion of Everything Everywhere’s 1800MHz spectrum to launch its own 4G services.

That’s not to say that everyone won’t be bidding for parts of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. The 800MHz band is desirable as it’s better at transmitting services over greater distances, allowing for better reception in rural areas. By the same token, the 2.6GHz higher frequency bands will be better at delivering faster mobile broadband speeds in built up towns and cities.

EE has set out to provide near-nationwide 4G coverage (98 per cent) by 2014, so it stands to reason that they’ll want to get in on the 800MHz action too.

December 11, 2012  

Bidding application to begin December 11

Ofcom has announced December 11 as the provisional start date for the 4G spectrum auction.

Applications for slices of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands of spectrum are expected to begin on the 11th with EE, O2, Vodafone and Three all vying for bits of the airwaves. By the end of December, the applications will be reviewed by Ofcom, but the auction itself won’t properly begin until January next year.

As well as this, Ofcom anticipates that O2, Three and Vodafone won’t be launching any 4G services until June 2013 at the very latest.

The provisional timetable for the entire bidding, auction and launch process is as follows:

  • 11 December: The application day Prospective bidders submit their applications to Ofcom together with an initial deposit. 
  • December: Qualification stage Applications are reviewed to determine who can go on to bid in the auction.
  • January: The principal stage Bidding begins. This could take a number of weeks. Bids will be placed online over secure internet connections, using software that has been developed specifically for the auction.
  • February/March: The assignment stage Bidders informed what they have won and its cost.
  • February/March: The grant stage Licence fees are paid and licences granted.
  • May/June: New 4G services launched New 4G services expected to go live from a range of providers.

4G bidding application begins December 11

Proposed prices for blocks of spectrum vary from £100,000 for 5MHz of the 2.6GHz band (unpaired) and £250 million for two 10MHz blocks of the 800MHz spectrum.

There’s nothing new to report on the 4G Freeview Fail, other than networks bidding for parts of the 800MHz band - the 4G band which will interfere with Freeview reception - will have to cough up an extra £30 million as well.

The 800MHz spectrum is desirable as it’s a lower frequency spectrum than 2.6GHz, and so provides better 4G coverage indoors.

Recently the group formerly known as MitCo rebranded as Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited, which will be responsible for sending out signal boosters to affected customers. In homes where a signal booster won’t help, there are plans to offer a basic Freeview-esque service via Virgin Media’s cable network or Freesat (where applicable).

November 12, 2012

Everything Everywhere to launch 4G end of October

Everything Everywhere has set in stone the launch date for its 4G services - the first of their kind in the UK - for Tuesday the 30th of October.

While this will be a treat for iPhone 5 owners on Orange and T-Mobile (owned by Everything Everywhere), O2, Vodafone and Three customers are missing out on a trick - they won’t be able to get similar next-gen services until early 2013.

Yesterday culture secretary Maria Miller announced that the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum would be cleared earlier than planned, making way for the long-awaited 4G auction. This will see O2, Vodafone and Three able to launch 4G services earlier than was previously thought.

As well as providing a boost for mobile owners, 4G will also help bring wireless broadband services into areas which aren’t due to get fibre broadband for a while, making this good news for rural residents too.

October 3, 2012

O2 and Vodafone agree to share masts for 4G

O2 and Vodafone are to merge their networks, allowing 2G, 3G and 4G services to be broadcast from the same masts.

This is a network sharing agreement which will see both networks save money by sharing infrastructure but won’t, as was the case with the Orange and T-Mobile merger, see the two companies joining as one. Nor will the move see O2 customers able to make use of Vodafone signal and vice versa.

Both networks will continue to run and separate entities, but will share the same national grid, proving 98 per cent coverage of all services - including 4G - by 2015.

The exact details on 4G sharing will be ironed out in the 4G auction. Today culture secretary Maria Miller is meeting with the heads of O2 and Vodafone as well as Everthing Everywhere/EE (which owns Orange and T-Mobile) and Three to discuss the future of the auction and potentially stall any legal action which could delay rollout of 4G in the UK even further.

October 2, 2012

Maria Miller calls time on network squabbling

Maria Miller, the new culture secretary, has called in the heads of O2, Everything Everywhere/EE, Three and Vodafone in order to accelerate the oft-delayed 4G auction and preempt any further legal wrangling.

Everything Everywhere, which owns Orange and T-Mobile has jumped the gun somewhat - it’s been allowed to launch 4G services ahead of the competition on the 1800MHz band of spectrum whereas the other networks still need to carve up the remaining spectrum between them.

The announcement that EE was to launch 4G prior to the auction has drawn criticism from the other networks, with O2 launching an appeal to the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) to EE 4G from launching before the auction.

According to the Sunday Times [paywall], Miller wants the auction brought forwards so that UK consumers - already lagging behind the rest of the world - can benefit from 4G as soon as possible.

This would see EE going ahead with its launch of 4G but the other networks able to launch their own 4G sooner. A final meeting is to be held tomorrow after which we should hear more about how the future of 4G in the UK and the auction process will take shape.

The 4G auction - already severely delayed - was expected to start later this year with a view to commercial rollout beginning in Spring 2013.

October 1, 2012