O2 takes the 4G challenge to EE

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O2 to begin roll-out of its 4G network from August 29. Mobile News has the latest updates and reaction from the channel

O2 CEO Ronan Dunne last week took the challenge to EE by claiming the coverage and quality of O2’s 4G network would usurp anything else the channel has to offer. Dunne was speaking as O2 announced that its 4G network would launch on 29 August.

The service, starting almost 10 months after EE’s, will initially be rolled out in three cities: London, Leeds and Bradford, reaching up to five million people.

A further 10 cities – Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – will follow before the end of the year, covering around 30 per cent of the population.

The operator will extend its coverage to around two million people each month thereafter, as it looks to hit its 98 per cent population target by 2015, two years ahead of Ofcom’s proposed guidelines.

O2 business director Ben Dowd told Mobile News that customers could expect 4G speeds to be in excess of around five to seven times faster than those offered on 3G at present, but no specific details have been confirmed.

On closing the 4G auction process in February, O2 said it had spent £550 million in securing 2x10MHz of spectrum at 800MHz, which is touted as offering greater indoor coverage.

Dunne insists that whilst speed remains a key message for 4G, it’s the capacity, coverage and customer experience that are its priorities.

He described previous experiences of using 4G on other operators, without naming names, as often being inconsistent and sporadic.

“For many, 4G represents just faster download speeds,” said Dunne. “It’s not about headline speeds, but more about consistency.

“We’re thinking a lot bigger than that and are encouraging people to think bigger. You want coverage, but what we are focusing on is making sure we have high quality coverage and the beauty of our 800MHz spectrum is we can be confident that from launch we can deliver the best coverage of any operator.

“We want to be able to provide big enough patches of coverage so that customers are getting a consistent 4G experience, rather than them getting that sporadically on their journeys.

“We will roll out 4G similar to what EE has done, providing regular updates on towns and cities to go live. What will be different is the impact of the quality of what people get from day one and the breadth of coverage they receive in an area once that area is switched on.

“We want to be able to go beyond what’s already been offered in the market and bring to life that digital experience for our customers. We are in a position to deliver a rapid and robust network, which will reach further outdoors and penetrate better indoors.”

Plans will be competitive

At the time of going to press, O2 has yet to reveal specific pricing and packages, although it appears the network will charge a higher price for its service than EE at launch.

O2 has said tariffs will begin at £26 a month for both consumers and business, available on contract and SIM-only, including O2 Refresh.

Customers will be given a 30-day ‘Happiness Guarantee’, when signing to 4G, allowing them to switch back to 3G if they are unhappy with the service.

No exact details on packages or data allowance have been confirmed, although an unlimited data option has been ruled out.

By comparison, EE’s cheapest plan costs £21 a month on SIM-only with unlimited minutes, texts and 500MB of data.

Prepay plans will launch in the weeks following the initial roll-out. Dunne declined to reveal further details at this stage, but did confirm that O2 would not be offering unlimited data allowances.

Dunne insisted, however, during a conference call Q&A that consumer and business users would comfortably be able to do everything they wanted on O2’s 4G network and would receive the highest level of quality to boot.

“The O2 brand has always represented quality,” said Dunne. “We will always remain competitive, but we also have many other things that are attractive about the service we offer. Customers have a range of reasons why they choose an operator and tariff is one of them, as is experience and benefit of membership.

“We will be competitive for the service that we are offering. I’m very confident on a performance basis that we will exceed the expectation of our customers and competitors.”

Full article in Mobile News issue 544 (August 12, 2013).

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