O2 to cover 5M in the UK with LTE by end of August

Telefónica's O2 UK finally made good on its promise to launch LTE service, setting Aug. 29 as the day it will switch on its 800 MHz LTE network for a total of 5 million people in London, Leeds and Bradford. The carrier said it plans to expand the network to 2 million people per month with the goal of covering 13 total cities by the end of the year--O2 plans to cover 98 per cent of the UK's population with its "2G, 3G and 4G network," both indoor and outdoor, by the end of 2015.

"It's great that I am able to announce O2 4G the day after the spectrum has been cleared for use," O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne said. O2 bought £550 million worth of 800 MHz spectrum during the country's recent spectrum auction, and UK telecoms regulator Ofcom just recently cleared the spectrum for LTE deployment--five months ahead of schedule. "Over half of our customers say they use more data than two years ago and even more use Wi-Fi wherever they go, to always stay connected. Given this trend, there is no doubt that 4G will transform our lives, be it as consumers, in business or through public sector services."

Indeed, O2 said data usage on its network has more than doubled in the last twelve months.

The announcement puts O2 on a collision course with EE, which launched its 1800 MHz LTE network earlier this year. EE said as part of its second-quarter results that it currently has 687,000 LTE subscribers and is on track to cross 1 million by the end of the year. O2's announcement also primes the pump for Vodafone's own LTE launch; Vodafone inked a network-sharing agreement for LTE with O2 a year ago.

Although O2 said its LTE network would be five times faster than its 3G network, details remain scarce. The carrier said its LTE tariffs will start at £26 ($39.30) per month (and thus more expensive than EE's lowest price) but the carrier did not provide details. The carrier has said that, like EE, it will offered tiered pricing that will not include an unlimited data option. O2 also said it would offer "free music content" to customers who purchase a 4G consumer tariff direct from O2, though the carrier did not provide details on the offer.

Among O2's other hiccups: The carrier's network won't support the LTE components in Apple's iPhone 5, likely motivating the operator to launch a 4G Phone Promise for its iPhone 5 customers to "upgrade during their contract to get their hands on a new phone any time they want." Further,  Dunne acknowledged to the BBC that O2's LTE service will match EE's launch speeds, but it won't be as fast as EE's enhanced LTE network, which will double speeds to 20 Mbps in 10 cities by the summer. For its part, O2 trumpeted the in-building penetration characteristics of its 800 MHz spectrum.

As O2 primes its LTE network, Vodafone and 3 UK are likely not far behind. Both have promised to launch LTE this year on 800 MHz spectrum.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Next Web article
- see this BBC article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this The Verge article

Related Articles:
Ofcom releases 800 MHz spectrum for LTE
EE: We're on track to hit 1M LTE users in 2013
Ofcom approves spectrum refarming for LTE services
EE unveils new LTE plans, has a dig at rivals
3 UK mulls pooling 800 MHz spectrum with EE, may speed up LTE launch
UK makes progress on LTE as O2 picks BT for backhaul, EE expands network
EE aims to boost 4G speeds as UK rivals prep LTE networks

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