UK continues to steal a march on Ireland in terms of 4G launch

29 Aug 2013

Despite Ireland awarding 4G licences to the various mobile operators last November, it is being surpassed by the UK which, although awarding its licences to operators in February, saw operators Vodafone and O2 go live with their 4G networks in the UK today.

It is understood that the first 4G services in Ireland from Vodafone and Meteor are due to go live in the coming weeks.

However, today Vodafone and O2 went live with their first, albeit limited, 4G networks in the UK, joining EE (Everything Everywhere), which covers many of the UK’s major cities.

Vodafone is understood to have recorded 20,000 sign-ups for its 4G service, which is initially available in London, with a new cell site envisaged to be switched on every 30 minutes in the city.

O2’s UK 4G network will initially be available in London and the Northern cities of Leeds and Bradford.

Analysys Mason predicts the UK will be the third largest 4G market in Europe by the end of 2014, with nearly 8m connections after France and Germany.

High-end devices, like smartphones and tablets, will be a major driver for 4G connectivity.

This morning, mobile operator Three announced the rollout schedule and pricing for its 4G launch. The first three UK cities to get 4G will be London, Birmingham and Manchester, beginning in December.

Will the last country in Europe to switch on 4G please stand up?

The danger is that Ireland could very much find itself being one of the last countries in Europe to switch on 4G networks, despite a lucrative spectrum licensing auction that saw Ireland’s four main mobile operators fork out €850m (€481.7m up front) for wireless spectrum licences to roll out 4G mobile networks across Ireland.

The UK raised stg£2.34bn from its auction of 4G mobile spectrum. The UK government had hoped that the auction would have raised stg£3.5bn for the Treasury.

When the networks eventually go live they won’t be ubiquitous – the licences cover only 70pc of the population, which means cities and large towns.

The upshot, however, is that former areas that only had 2G coverage will be able to enjoy 3G speeds, meaning some form of broadband will theoretically be available across most of the country.

With Vodafone and Meteor likely to be the first 4G networks to go live officially in Ireland, the sale of O2 Ireland to Three Ireland’s owner Hutchison Whampoa for €850m will create an interesting powerhouse in terms of spectrum allocation – Three opted for higher 4G frequencies ideal for urban areas, while O2 sensibly went for an option that as well as giving it a solid 4G base also allowed it to convert former 2G and terrestrial TV signals into 3G.

The 4G wars are about to begin. Fasten your seat belts!

4G image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years