Superfast 4G products and services are being made available to millions of mobile phone users in 11 cities across the UK, amid criticism about the cost of pricing plans for the new service.
EE, formerly known as Everything Everywhere, will launch its range of 4G products and services in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Southampton and Manchester.
The 4G network, which offers speeds up to five times faster than 3G, will be available on the Apple iPhone 5 as well as devices from HTC, Samsung, Nokia and Huawei.
The launch comes amid criticism of EE’s 4G pricing plans, which will hit customers on certain tariffs with additional charges if they exceed download allowances.
EE customers in a further five cities – Belfast, Derby, Hull, Newcastle and Nottingham – will have access to 4G by the end of the year.
The group then plans to roll out the service to further towns, cities and rural areas next year, with population coverage of 70 per cent and rising to 98 per cent in 2014.
Rival operators including Vodafone, O2 owner Telefonica and Three will be able to launch their own 4G services and products from next spring.
The companies had threatened legal action against communications regulator Ofcom over its 4G auction process, which has allowed EE to be the sole UK provider of the superfast services until next year.
Vodafone launched a “4G phone promise” last week, offering customers the chance to bring an eligible phone into any store, and have 70 per cent knocked off their remaining contract, in exchange for taking on a 4G device.
The services are expected to deliver between five and seven times faster mobile internet speeds, roughly the equivalent of wired broadband.
They will allow uninterrupted access to the web on the go, high definition movies to be downloaded in minutes and TV to be streamed without buffering.
Pay monthly EE deals range from £36 a month for 500MB of data downloads – the equivalent of two one-hour programmes on the BBC iPlayer – to £56 a month for 8GB of data.
Customers who want to download more than their 500MB allowance will recieve a warning as they reach their limit and an offer to buy more data.
There are no plans for unlimited data downloads and users’ data will stop until the next month if they reach the limit and do not buy the add on.
For £41 you can get unlimited call time on EE’s 4G tariff, unlimited texts and 1GB data, compared with unlimited texts and calls on Orange and twice the amount of 3G data and unlimited calls texts and 3G data on T-mobile
While mobile phone users in rural areas may not benefit immediately from 4G, there is optimism that its introduction, combined with the recent analogue television switch-off will help to tackle the notorious mobile “not spots” around the UK.
Telecommunications regulator Ofcom told Channel 4 News that the analogue switch-off had freed up some of the UK’s digital spectrum. A further 4G auction at the end of the year would require bidders to commit to providing 4G to 95 per cent of the population of all four nations that make up the UK.
In addition, the winning provider in that particular auction will have to serve 98 per cent of the UK population, something EE has already committed to doing. Other 4G providers may not have this requirement.
An Ofcom spokesman said: “You might have an interesting situation where someone might not get a fixed broadband service but would have access to mobile broadband.”
The UK is still behind other countries which have already launched 4G services, including the US, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.
3G launched in the UK in March 2003 when Hutchison 3G began offering the service to customers, bringing a vast improvement in network speeds.