THE UK’S smallest mobile network, Three, yesterday threw down the gauntlet to its bigger rivals as it announced plans to launch its super fast 4G in December – and offer the service free to existing subscribers.
Three’s offering will join O2 and Vodafone, which launched competing 4G networks yesterday, and Everything Everywhere (EE), whose high speed network has a 10-month head start on its rivals.
Three, which claims more than 9.1m UK users, is hoping that by offering existing subscribers free access to a 4G service, customers will remain loyal to the network until it can launch later this year.
Three’s 4G network will initially be limited to London, Birmingham and Manchester, but the operator said it plans to increase this coverage to 50 cities by the end of 2014 and 98 per cent by the end of 2015.
EE won early approval from Ofcom last October to start rolling out its 4G network, giving the group a 10-month lead over its rivals.
The early start led to EE reporting 687,000 4G customers by the end of June and an anticipated one million subscribers by the end of the year.
Three picked up Ofcom approval to roll out its 4G network as part of the regulators £2.3bn auction in March of the prized high speed spectrum.
Ronan de Renesse, analyst at consultancy Analysys Mason, said that the UK could become the third largest 4G market in the Europe by the end of 2014 with nearly eight million subscriptions.
“The UK is in a unique position because it had an early entrant in the market, so the other operators couldn’t monetise early adopters," he said. “The market will now accelerate a lot faster than other 4G launches you have seen in Europe.”
The O2 and Vodafone 4G networks that launched yesterday will only be available to a handful of UK customers, with O2 rolling out its service in London, Leeds and Bradford, and Vodafone launching only in London.