O2 has announced it will launch 4G from 29th August

Rethink Wireless commented: While leading cellco EE has been offering LTE services on an exclusive basis for nine months – having been allowed to refarm its 1.8GHz GSM spectrum ahead of the UK auctions of new 4G frequencies – it will now face competition from O2, from August 29, followed by Vodafone and 3UK in the fall.

O2 says it will launch commercial services initially in three cities – capital London plus the northern centres of Leeds and Bradford – followed by another 10 cities by the end of the year. The network will cover 5m people at launch and will be expanded at a rate of 2m POPs per month until the cellco reaches 98% indoor and outdoor coverage. The firm’s licence terms set a deadline of end of 2017 to achieve this goal.

The operator has not yet revealed details of its data plans, except to say that LTE tariffs will start at £26 a month, and that it will provide various incentives to choose its network, including 12 months of free music content for subscribers who sign up directly with the carrier. An important aspect of O2’s branding campaign in the UK is its sponsorship of large music venues, including the London O2 Arena.

EE has reduced some of its prices in advance of competition and its LTE deals start at £21 a month for 500Mbytes of data with a 12-month SIM-only contract. It announced recently that it signed up 369,000 LTE customers in the second quarter, and is well on its way to its target of one million 4G subscribers by year end.

Its rival will now start on a marketing campaign to whet consumer and enterprise appetite for its services. “It is our intention to use 4G to inspire the nation through the possibilities of technology, encouraging people to live more, do more and be more,” said O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne, in a statement. “The full potential of 4G is as yet unexplored.”

Meanwhile, O2 is hedging its bets in terms of wireless capacity and coverage, and is also the UK’s most active proponent of carrier Wi-Fi to complement its 3G/4G roll-outs. It gained significant profile for its free Wi-Fi services, provided in central London areas during last summer’s Olympic Games, and now it is working with carrier Wi-Fi vendor Ruckus Wireless to create its second major London hotzone, in Canary Wharf, the capital’s second financial district after City of London, which houses 100,000 workers each business day.

The hotzones extend O2’s longstanding strategy of boosting its brand and service awareness by offering free Wi-Fi access not only to its own mobile users, but to all-comers. The other benefit it claims is that the Wi-Fi hotzone acts as a blueprint for its future roll-out of 3G/4G small cells, allowing it to test new topologies with a lower risk technology, identify prime areas where a capacity or coverage boost it needed, and to secure sites and backhaul. The Ruckus Wi-Fi access points can be upgraded in future to house cellular radios too, as cellcos look to deploy some multimode metrocells from next year.

Ruckus will install both indoor and outdoor access points in Canary Wharf public areas, including four shopping malls and 20 acres of public parks and plazas. The network will automatically connect registered users to the network, while new users must complete a one-time registration process. O2 also recently announced a new backhaul deal with fibre provider Virgin Media, which is increasingly competing for this business with incumbent telco BT.

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