Vodafone's LTE ambitions got a shot in the arm this week, with the operator announcing the launch of its LTE network in the Netherlands, confirming its UK LTE launch date and increasing LTE speeds to 150 Mbps in Germany.
Following the recent announcement by Telefónica's O2 UK that it would launch LTE services on Aug. 29, Vodafone has confirmed that its UK services will also be launched in London on the same date, with 12 more cities to follow this year. The company's "Vodafone Red 4G-ready" plans will be available from Aug. 12 and will be called Vodafone Red 4G, Red 4G L and Red 4G XL. Plans for SIM-only customers start at £26 a month, matching O2 UK's lowest price, while plans with a smartphone start at £34.
More competition on the UK mobile broadband market is welcome news, but rivals to EE will have their work cut out for them, as the country's first LTE services provider has developed a broad portfolio of LTE tariffs, including shared data plans, and is now doubling the speeds of its services across the country.
O2 UK, Vodafone and 3 UK will need to find some fairly innovative ways to differentiate their services. What's more, EE will still be the only UK operator to support the iPhone 5 because it uses 1800 MHz spectrum, not 800 MHz like the other operators. 3 UK has said it will launch LTE service in the fourth quarter.
Vodafone is banking on relationships with content providers, and said on its blog that it is teaming up with Sky Sports and Spotify in order to offer free music and mobile TV content to users as part of their subscriptions.
"With 4G, speed is just the start: it's what you do with it that really matters," Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence said. "We are taking 4G into a new league by offering sport; and changing the tune with all the music you could want. 4G is coming of age, and there's plenty to look forward to."
The operator has also said it will buy back devices such as the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy SIII and Galaxy Note II when it launches its LTE network. "Even if your plan hasn't ended, we'll knock off 75 per cent of your remaining charges, letting you upgrade your phone early and start a fresh 4G plan," the company says on its blog.
Like O2 UK, Vodafone is imposing data caps--8 GB in its case--although the operator will continue to offer its Data Test Drive to allow users to test how much data they would need over a three-month period.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Vodafone this week became the second operator to launch LTE after KPN, and, as noted by GigaOM, it is the first operator in the country to provide an LTE network that also uses 1800 MHz spectrum. For one thing, this means it will be able to support the latest iPhone 5, unlike KPN.
Vodafone NL said LTE services are now available in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, and added that new subscribers to its Red plans will be able to access the higher speed services immediately. However, the operator also noted that its existing 3G networks will continue to be used for several years, and it has therefore implemented dual-carrier technology to boost download speeds to a maximum of 7.2 Mbps.
Last but not least, Vodafone customers in Germany will be able to enjoy LTE speeds of up to 150 Mbps after the operator said it is deploying Category 4 LTE, or LTE Cat4, in certain hotspots across the country. The ultra-high-speed services will initially be available in Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Dresden and Munich, with further cities to follow in the coming weeks.
The German operator said subscribers to the Red Premium and Red Black smartphone tariffs, as well as the data-only tariff Mobile Internet Flat 50.0, will benefit from the higher speeds at no extra cost. The Huawei Ascend P2 will be the first smartphone to support the service, building on the ongoing cooperation between Vodafone and the Chinese telecoms vendor.
In summary, Vodafone's Dutch and UK launches will bring the total number of the operator's LTE markets to 12; the company said during its last quarterly results that it had launched LTE services in 10 markets to date. LTE, data services and converged plans uniting fixed and mobile offerings are the main pillars of the operator's future strategy.
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