O2 UK defends network quality (perhaps too much?)

A Vodafone advert claiming that its 3G network offered the best quality of service has provoked a storm of protest from rival operator O2. The company argues that it provides a better customer experience in much of the UK, with London being the stand-out area--an assertion that might be questioned by some O2 iPhone users.

In an attempt to substantiate its superior 3G rating, O2 UK CTO, Derek McManus, said that the company had the best network in London, "and that is independently tested, and not a claim to make us look good. We have 84 per cent 3G coverage (in the UK,) but we also have over 7,000 Wi-Fi hotspots and the best 2G coverage. For mobile data, I'd say the best place to go is O2."

Strangely, McManus cited a January study, verified by the British Approvals Board for Telecommunications, which indicated O2 was the fastest for mobile web downloads in only four of the 20 major cities in the UK. Vodafone was placed first in five cities in the same study.

"Is Vodafone best for 3G quality? Not in my opinion, no. Overall, O2 has a better network--although, there are also parts of the country where we don't. But we'd rather be honest, and talk to customers in a language they understand," admitted McManus.

Perhaps with more justification, McManus pointed to its experience in handling high volumes of smartphone-generated data traffic. "We are on a completely different scale (in terms of smartphone usage.) We have over two million iPhone users when the closest competitor has perhaps a tenth of that. We have invested because we've the biggest base, the lowest churn and the most satisfied customers."

The CTO added that O2 UK was doubling network roll out for the next few years and was accelerating a plan to invest hundreds of millions in it. It is to add a further 1,500 cell sites by the end of 2010.

Adding fuel to this increasingly bitter war of words, 3UK's CTO commented: "I have seen what everyone has seen, and you have to wonder if O2's network is strong enough to support a significant base of 3G usage."

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