O2 plays catch-up with EE’s 4G, but are they in a losing battle?

Loyal O2 customers in the UK may be pleased to hear the company can begin the rollout of their 4G network; after an exclusive period of availability by rival EE (who spent their time wisely.)

However, before you scream “yay 4GEE!!!” like a tween with Bieber-fever, it won’t be without its challenges…

You may have noticed the use of ‘4GEE’ above – which is EE’s marketing – this was deliberate in an attempt to show how the company has used their exclusivity period to become synonymous with, and the leader of 4G in the UK according to respondents in a recent survey.

Over this exclusive period, EE has doubled their network speeds beyond that which O2 can offer at launch.

Another huge advantage which EE has over O2 – the iPhone 5 supports the 1.8 GHz frequency used by EE since last year; but not the 800 MHz which O2’s takes advantage of. Whilst EE is gaining customers at a fast rate; the exclusion of iPhone could be detrimental to O2’s success.

Of course, Apple is expected to launch updated handsets this year which will most likely add capabilities for frequencies used by O2, Three, and Vodafone. Although could it be too late?

Many observers are already criticising O2’s rollout plans; which seem incredibly un-incredible.

Considering EE is now live in 95 UK cities, including – Aldershot, Amersham, Aylesbury, Barnsley, Belfast, Berkhamstead, Billericay, Bingley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bolton, Bracknell, Bradford, Brentwood, Bristol, Cardiff, Chelmsford, Chorley, Coventry, Derby, Dewsbury, Doncaster, Dudley, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Harpenden, Hemel Hempstead, Hitchin, Horsham, Huddersfield, Hull, Leatherhead, Leeds, Leicester, Letchworth Lichfield, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Luton, Lytham St Annes, Maidenhead, Manchester, Marlow, Newbury, Newcastle, Newport, Nottingham, Pontefract, Preston, Reading, Rotherham, Sheffield, Shipley, Slough, Southampton, Southend-on-Sea, St Albans, Stevenage, Stockport, Sunderland, Sutton Coldfield, Telford, Thame, Walsall, Warrington, Watford, West Bromwich, Weston-Super-Mare, Windsor and Wolverhampton.

O2 is launching in – drum roll please – London, Leeds, and Bradford.

You probably didn’t even finish reading EE’s list did you? Nope? Well, exactly. Then after that sinks in; take into account EE’s current 687,000 4G customers (at the end of June.) Still not seeing the scale of EE’s dominance? The company, an Orange and T-Mobile partnership, is on track to hit one million users by the end of 2013.

By the year’s end, of course, more cities will be supported – Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh. Whilst covering many major cities, O2 is completely leaving the West Country out – including your friendly neighbourhood editor.

Whilst the need for load-testing and such is obvious; O2 should have been much more prepared for the launch. In the face of further upcoming competition from Three and Vodafone, is their offering enough?

It’s hard to see how O2 are going to create an appealing 4G service which differentiates from rivals in any respect.  The pricing, starting at £26/month, isn’t even that spectacular – EE starts at £23/month. Here, rival Three looks the most competitive for consumers; promising an upgrade to 4G at no extra cost from launch – the network’s “all you can eat” data plans start at £12.90/month for some comparison.

Talking of which, will ‘Three’ now have to be rebranded as ‘Four’?

O2’s 4G rollout will begin with London, Leeds, and Bradford on 29th August.

What do you think about O2’s 4G rollout and overall strategy? How well can they face competition?

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