Orange and Vodafone claim their networks will cope with the extra data traffic that plagued O2 when it launched the iPhone. Orange has already launched the iPhone, and Vodafone will start selling the popular handset on 14 January.
Jeni Mundy, Vodafone UK's CTO, said the company has spent "millions" strengthening its core network to cope with the expected increase in data traffic as it phases out analogue voice for digital. "It is not just about the iPhone," she said.
Data already accounts for 50% of Vodafone's traffic, and Mundy predicted this would grow. "Mobile users want four things: reliability, capacity, speed and quality of service," she said.
Mundy added that Vodafone's core network now runs the digital Internet Protocol, which simplifies and improves the scalability of the network. It was also the first UK mobile network operator (MNO) to offer 14.4mbps transmission speeds, and plans to introduce EDGE technology later this year, she said. This could treble its network capacity.
Meanwhile Orange, which is absorbing T-Mobile's UK network, introduced what it calls high-density (HD) voice at the end of last year. The HD technology expands the frequency range of mobile audio signals from 300-3,400Hz to 50-7,000Hz. Users hear a clearer signal in the same way that switching from AM to FM improves what they hear on broadcast radio.
3UK, which took a strategic decision early on to go for digital traffic, now has 94% of its traffic in digital format.
In a Financial Times report, O2 CEO Ronan Dunne apologised to customers for congestion in the MNO's London network following its launch of the iPhone. The iPhone had helped boost O2's data traffic 18-fold in as many months, it said.
Having lost its exclusive right to sell iPhones, O2 added the so-called "iPhone killer" Palm Pre handset to its range, while continuing to offer iPhones.
Dunne said O2 had installed an extra 200 base stations in London to cope with the extra traffic and is talking to Nokia Siemens, which supplied its core network to optimise it, and to smart phone makers, including Apple and Blackberry maker Research in Motion, for early warning of data-intensive applications.
iPhone was one of the most popular search terms for Christmas presents.
AT&T, which had network congestion problems when it launched the iPhone in the US, reportedly suspended online sales of the iPhone in New York over the Christmas weekend.
AT&T said it was because of increased fraud rates, but the NowPublic blog said it was because AT&T's New York network was unable to handle the extra traffic generated by smartphone users.