By Paul Sandle
LONDON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Mobile operator EE launched its 4G network in 11 cities on Tuesday, giving it a head start on disgruntled rivals to take British consumers into the superfast broadband era where they can watch video and quickly surf the Internet on the move.
The launch comes just weeks after the joint venture between France Telecom’s Orange and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile businesses got the go-ahead to provide the new service while its rivals Vodafone, Telefonica’s O2 and Hutchison’s Three have to wait until next year.
“We’re investing 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) in our network to be the first company to offer mobile 4G in the UK, alongside the biggest 3G network,” EE’s chief executive Olaf Swantee said.
Regulator Ofcom has allowed EE to reuse its existing airwaves for 4G, which offers speeds five times faster than 3G. The other operators need to obtain new spectrum in an auction early next year, or in the case of Three, buy spectrum from EE.
The decision was a calculated move by Ofcom to kick-start 4G, and make the operators agree to a timetable for the spectrum auction and delivery of services after lengthy delays.
EE has priced 4G 10-20 percent higher than equivalent 3G tariffs, with an entry level of 36 pounds a month for 500MB of data, rising to 56 pounds for 8GB. All price plans unlimited calls and texts.
The tariffs faced some criticism on Twitter, with people saying that at superfast network speeds, the lowest monthly data allowance could be used up in a few minutes.
EE, however, said the levels had been set in line with typical demand, saying the average usage on a 36-pounds-a-month plan on its Orange 3G brand was just over 400MB.
“EE provides many more options for customers who have a heavier data requirement,” a company spokeswoman said.
“Our top plan with an 8GB data limit provides customers with eight times more data than is used by an average unlimited user today.”
EE is supporting the launch, in 11 cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester, with a multi-million pound ad campaign.
Its rivals, however, are fighting back by emphasising the quality of their existing networks and their own 3G plans.
Vodafone has been running ads across the press since Friday, highlighting the investment it is making ahead of launching its own services next year.