Consumers could be forgiven for scratching their heads following the recent spate of announcements from network operators unveiling their 4G intentions, putting an end to EE’s 10 month monopoly on next-gen data connectivity.
Vodafone and O2 have now thrown their hats into the ring with the both the Yoda-fronted network and Sean Bean-voiced service provider both revealing that their 4G services will begin rolling out from 29 August. Of course, new 4G services means a raft of new tariffs, all aimed at different types of users and all pitched at differing price points. But how does what’s on offer stand up in terms of value and, perhaps more importantly, coverage?
Put a price on it
A key factor in swaying those coming to the end of their current 3G contracts, or indeed those who just fancy getting in on the 4G action, will be pricing. EE has long been the only option for 4G in the UK, so you’d have expected Voda and O2 to steal a march on their competitors with price structures designed to lure the undecided punter away from the ‘established’ 4G player, but you’d be surprised.
Vodafone’s lowest priced 4G tariff will set you back £34 per month, a hike on EE’s £31 per month. However, the EE offering might well be easier on the pocket but only affords subscribers a measly 500MB of data. Vodafone’s £34 deal comes with 2GB comparatively.
O2’s lowest price point is £22 although that is as part of the O2 Refresh scheme which allows users to chop and change devices throughout their contract by paying a monthly fee on top of the airtime charge. Given that the cheapest handset carries a £10 per month levy, that actually makes the cheapest deal £32 per month. You do however get 1GB data allowance.
Taking all that into account, there’s not really a clear leader in the value stakes, even more so when you learn that all three networks are offering unlimited calls and texts across all their packages. So, we turn our attentions to data allowances...
Data bundles and associated incentives appear to be the carrot being dangled by each runner in this three horse race, with Vodafone just about outdoing EE’s cheapest SIM-free package with its equivalent. EE’s cheapest SIM-free deal is £21 per month for a 12-month contract whilst Voda’s is chalked up at £26 but the latter deal provides a reasonable 2GB of data as opposed to the meagre 500MB that EE offers. It’s a fiver more in terms of outlay but we’d suggest that the extra 1.5GB of internet makes it better value.
O2 doesn’t perform quite as well in terms of value – the most wallet-friendly package is the aforementioned £22 (plus a minimum £10 O2 Refresh handset fee) that ships with 1GB of data. That said, O2 does attempt to make its deals more appealing with an introductory offer that will see those signing up to the £27 and £32 per month plans before 31 October receive 5GB and 8GB allowances respectively. Leave it until after that date to sign up and you’ll only get 3GB and 5GB.
All three 4G service providers have taken steps to sweeten their deals by bundling in a few perks for customers. EE has persisted with the midweek free film bonanza established by Orange and bundles in its ‘EE Film’ two-for-one cinema tickets offer with all its 4G propositions, as well as providing free access to music streaming service Deezer with all plans with 2GB data or more.
Vodafone sugar-coats things by making 4G data unlimited for the first three months across all its tariffs and also throws in free access to either Spotify Premium or Sky Sports for six months on its cheapest deal or a year on the more expensive plans.
Finally, O2 throws in exclusive content for its 4G subscribers to enjoy via its Priority Moments scheme. Customers will enjoying access to Priority Sports videos including training tips and behind the scenes content from world class sports teams, a selection of multiplayer games courtesy of Gameloft and free access to the O2 4G Tracks music streaming service for 12 months.
Got it covered?
As the comparative stalwart in the 4G game, EE has had a bit of a head start on its new rivals and can boast 4G coverage in 95 UK towns and cities.
O2 says it will have its 4G services in 13 cities by the time the year is out. The next-gen coverage will initially launch in London, Leeds and Bradford on 29 August then roll out to Newcastle, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh by 31 December.
Vodafone’s 4G also launches on the same day but in London only, with Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield to follow before the end of the year. The network also promised to bring indoor 4G coverage to 98% of the population by 2015.
At this early stage, it’s really quite hard to give a definitive answer as to which provider to opt for such is the myriad of factors to consider. EE might offer the cheapest tariffs and most comprehensive coverage but that is offset by conservative data packages at entry level.
O2’s Refresh scheme could tempt those who like to change their device as soon as the latest model arrives but whether what you get for your money represents the best value could be called into question.
Vodafone’s deals have the pull of free Spotify and Sky Sports but the unspecific roll-out schedule might cause many to hang fire and see how the situation develops before parting with their hard-earned cash, especially as Hutchinson Telecom are set to join the fray in the not too distant future.
Over to you, Three...