The 4G tariff wars

With three of the four mobile operators having announced their 4G plans, Computer Weekly takes a look at what will be on offer

4G has been the talk of the mobile industry for some time now, but the UK market has been slow to bring the faster connectivity to its citizens.

The first taste we got of the faster mobile data was in September last year, when Ofcom allowed EE to repurpose its existing spectrum to provide 4G across its network.

But it took another five months before the regulator held its auction to distribute the spectrum made available from the digital television switchover. The winners were announced in February, but the waiting game began again as Three, Vodafone, O2, and surprise entrant to the market BT decided when to launch their services.

Both Vodafone and O2 have confirmed they will make their first forays into the 4G market on 29 August. Three is yet to announce its 4G launch date, although it has promised an offering during the fourth quarter of 2013. BT has confirmed it will just be using the spectrum to expand its wireless services, rather than to launch a mobile network.

4G tariff comparison

Tariffs from the three biggest networks are now available for comparison. 

Comparison and switching service uSwitch has put together a table of the 12-month SIM-only plans on offer from EE, Vodafone and O2 to enable those considering the move to 4G to compare prices, data limits and the added extras the operators are using to entice new customers. All of the tariffs include unlimited calls and texts.

Network Monthly cost Data Extras
EE £21 500MB N/A
EE £26 1GB N/A
Vodafone £26 2GB (unlimited for 3 months) Sky Sports 1&2 or Spotify Premium (for 6 months)
O2 £26 1GB O2 Tracks for 12 months; Priority Sports; Exclusive online gaming
EE £31 3GB N/A
Vodafone £31 4GB (unlimited for 3 months) Sky Sports 1&2 or Spotify Premium
O2 £31 3GB (5GB for 12 months if sign up before 31.10.13) O2 Tracks for 12 months; Priority Sports; Exclusive online gaming
EE £36 5GB N/A
Vodafone £36 8GB (unlimited for 3 months) Sky Sports 1&2 OR Spotify Premium
O2 £36 5GB (8GB for 12 months if sign up before 31.10.13) O2 Tracks for 12 months; Priority Sports; Exclusive online gaming
EE £41 8GB N/A
EE £61 20GB N/A
Source: uSwitch

While EE is still providing the cheapest entry to the market, at £21 per month for 500MB, Vodafone is offering the most data at the cheapest price – £26 for 2GB, along with three months of unlimited data – compared with 1GB from both O2 and EE at the same price.

This pattern is repeated in the higher-cost tariffs, with the £31 price bracket seeing Vodafone offer 3GB compared with 2GB from O2 and EE, and the £36 step up seeing Vodafone offer 8GB compared with 5GB from O2 and EE.

However, O2 is offering 5GB or 8GB for the £31 and £36 tariffs respectively for a year if the customer signs up before 31 October 2013.

Also, with EE’s efforts to double the speed of its network this year, there is little doubt the debut player on the market will offer the quickest 4G data compared to its competitors.

None of the big three have announced unlimited data plans, but Three has promised to bring this into play when it launches 4G later in the year.

The question remains whether users even want 4G, with EE only managing to sign up 687,000 of its 28 million customers by the end of July and a recent survey from YouGov showing 33% of consumers could not see the point of 4G and 31% having no idea what the benefits were.

It seems it is still all to play for in the realms of 4G, and Computer Weekly is keen to hear your thoughts. Are you looking to upgrade? Do any of these plans entice you? Or are you going to wait to see where the market leads? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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