Best 4G network: EE vs O2 vs Vodafone vs Three
29th Aug 2013 | 09:48
Networks launch their 4G weapons in the mobile war but which is best for you?
EE is no longer the only 4G operator on the block, with the big blue of O2 and the big red Vodafone networks finally bringing their super fast mobile offerings to the table.
With EE being an established network, covering over 60% of the UK population, both networks have a lot of work to do.
Three has an even bigger job on its hands, as it won't be launching its 4G service until December which means it will be playing a massive game of catch up.
The biggest thing that all of the networks have to worry about is convincing people that 4G is the way to go, since Gary Marshall points out that consumers just don't see the need for 4G. So what do the big three networks have up their sleeves? Here is our run down on what you can expect.
Best 4G Coverage
Let's face it, 4G is going to be of no use to you if you don't have access to it. EE now has 4G coverage for over 60% of the UK, covering 100 towns and cities across the UK including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. 24% of the UK is also eligible for EE's new double speed 4G.
O2 launched its 4G service on August 29 2013 in London, Leeds and Bradford and it will cover a total of 13 cities by the end of the year. Vodafone launched on the same day, but only in parts of London, with 12 more UK cities to be covered before the end of 2013.
Given Vodafone and O2 share their base stations in a cost-cutting measure, it makes sense that the same 13 cities would roll out at the same time - although Voda might choose to go to with some different locations to offer variety.
Three on the other hand will launch its LTE service sometime in December in London, Manchester and Birmingham.
A spokesperson told TechRadar its "4G rollout will ramp up from January with 50 cities covered by the end of 2014, and 98% of the population covered by the end of 2015."
Best 4G price
EE's 24-month 4G plans start at £26pm with 500MB of data, climbing by £5pm for a further 500MB. However at £46pm, a whopping 10GB of data is on offer, climbing to an even larger 20GB for a mind boggling £51pm.
For a 12-month contract, prices start at £41pm for 500MB of data, with £66pm gaining you 8GB of data. EE also offers 12-month and rolling 1-month contracts, starting at £21pm and £23pm respectively. All plans come with unlimited calls and texts.
Vodafone offers both 12 and 24-month Red 4G plans, again starting at £26pm. These Red plans include unlimited minutes and texts, with varying data limits.
Vodafone offers 3 months worth of unlimited data to all new contracts, but Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence made it clear that "we won't be going unlimited in the near future. In fact I'm not sure it will go unlimited at all".
O2's prices are a little simpler to understand. They all come with unlimited texts and calls, the base price for a SIM only contract on a 12-month deal is £26 for 1GB of data. £31 a month will net you 3GB of data, and £36 will get you 5GB.
However, order before 31 October and the latter two tariffs will be bumped up to 5GB and 8GB of data for the whole term of the contract.
If you get on O2's Refresh scheme, which sees your monthly payment split into airtime and paying for the phone, you can upgrade anytime you want and simply throw in the remaining balance for the handset.
Go down this route and 4G data plans start at £22 for 1GB of data, £27 for 3GB and £32 for 5GB, with the 5GB and 8GB upgrades also on offer. These also come with unlimited texts and calls.
Those of you not wanting to fork out extra for 4G will want to take a look at Three's offering, which won't charge you any more than it does for 3G making it a seriously attractive offer.
While data bundles are not clear at this time, it does look like anyone on an all you can eat data tariff will continue to stay unlimited - take that O2, Vodafone and EE!
Best 4G handsets
The most important part of your new contract will be your new smartphone (assuming you haven't already purchased a 4G-ready device). Possibly the biggest phone for any network right now is the iPhone 5.
As you may have heard, O2's 800MHz 4G band isn't supported by the Apple device, so to make the most of your iPhone's mobile web, you will need to choose a different network. That said, we would highly expect the next iPhone iteration - iPhone 6 anyone? - to be available on O2 from the outset.
Don't go thinking that Vodafone will be able to offer Apple's iPhone 5 on 4G either though, since that network's running the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands... neither of which are supported by Apple's latest handset.
What about the other 4G-ready phones? O2, alongside both EE and Vodafone, will be carrying the 5 star rated HTC One plus the Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Mini, Sony Xperia Z, BlackBerry Z10, Q10, Nokia Lumia 925 and Lumia 820.
EE currently has 15 different 4G devices, including the network-exclusive Huawei Ascend P1 LTE. O2 will be offering 13 different devices, and so too will Vodafone which also has 13 different handsets.
Three hasn't announced which handsets its 4G service will work with, but it currently has 11 enabled handsets in its store including the HTC One, Galaxy S4, iPhone 5, Xperia Z and Lumia 925.
- For a full rundown of the best 4G phones out at the moment, head over to our in-depth feature on this very subject.
Best 4G deals
Also important to your new plan is what else your chosen network can offer you. Whether it's a free cinema ticket or free gifts from the high street, each network has its own goodies to try to tempt you across.
EE's headlines offers include EE Wednesdays, a continuation of Orange Wednesdays, with a free cinema ticket available mid-week for all EE customers, as well as the uninspiring EE Film app, allowing you to rent films.
Being the longest serving 4G network, EE is also able to offer double speed 4G, with 12 UK cities having a theoretical 150Mbps top speed. Probably more interestingly, EE will also be bringing shared plans, so you can access 4G on multiple devices.
EE also offers a few other services including Cash on Tap, a NFC payment app which comes with a free £10 of credit, as well as free access to BT's and Virgin Media's London Underground Wi-Fi hotspots.
There are also reports that the big red Vodafone network will be offering shared plans at some stage. Vodafone also offers a Sure Signal box, plugging into your router to offer mobile signal at home. Elsewhere, Vodafone VIP is available to customers, offering tickets to Vodafone-sponsored events.
More importantly, Vodafone is offering 3 months unlimited data, as well as offering to buy customers out of their contracts, should they upgrade. Also being bundled in with 4G plans is your choice of either a Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile TV subscription.
O2 has long had Priority moments, offering up high street discounts from money off chocolate to cheaper flights or 2 for 1 entry at a theme park. O2 also offers Priority tickets, offering up tickets up to 48 hours before general release, and Priority sports gaining access to a variety of sports-based offers.
O2 also offers TU Go, an app that enables you to use your O2 number to make calls and send texts via Wi-Fi from not only your phone, but also your tablet and laptop - which even includes the London Underground.
With Three determined to provide 4G at no extra cost to customers it's unlikely that it will through in any free services alongside it.