At first, EE had a monopoly on the market. But now Vodafone and O2 users can access high-speed 4G internet on their smartphones.
The service is only available for O2 customers in London, Leeds and Bradford at the moment. And Vodafone has only launched in parts of London. But, up to 13 cities are set to get 4G by the end of the year.
Consumers should be able to surf the web at speeds up to seven times faster than if they were using 3G services.
But, with fewer than 15 smartphone models on the O2 and Vodafone networks working with 4G, customers may find themselves having to buy a new phone if they want to benefit from the new service.
Consumer experts are urging people to think about whether they really need faster internet, and to ask lots of questions before buying a new 4G enabled phone, to ensure it is the right service to them.
Ernest Doku, a technology expert for USwitch.com, said customers needed to think about extra costs as well as asking their mobile provider when they would be able to get 4G in their area and how much extra upgrading to a compatible phone would be per month.
“A lot of people will have to pay a few hundred quid to buy a new phone and break their contract,” he explained, “even those with relatively new smartphones.
“You need to ask yourself if the more expensive tariff will be worth it. Not everyone will need faster internet. Naturally, over time, people will change to 4G, but there is a lot to think about at the moment.”
The cities set to have 4G network coverage via O2 and Vodafone include Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. The plan is to eventually offer 4G to 98 per cent of the UK.
But the two firms are still playing catch up to EE, which offers its 4G network to more than 100 towns and cities across the country.
Telecoms analyst Dominic Baliszewski is predicting that while take up might be slow to start: “Just like the black-and-white televisions of yesteryear, 3G is doing a perfectly good job for millions of customers – but 4G is the Technicolor revolution.”
It may take some time for consumers to join the revolution, however, with a new report suggesting one in five people believe the high-speed broadband won’t improve their current service, and a third say they don’t need 4G. A third of consumers also said they thought it would be too expensive for them to change to faster services.
However, Vodafone’s UK boss, Guy Laurence says he expects 4G to take off quickly, because people increasingly want to access video, and other data-hungry applications, while they are on the move.
“I think adoption will be far faster than 3G,” he said, “because people didn’t really understand how to use it then.”
Vodafone, O2 and EE will be joined by the final major UK network, Three, which is launching its own 4G service at the end of the year, starting with London, Birmingham and Manchester.