I recently wrote about EE's UK 4G coverage and how they were now the largest LTE carrier in Europe. Now it's time to take a look at the UK carrier at the other side the spectrum, Vodafone. Now, I'm ignoring Three, because Three don't have a dedicated 4G LTE set of tariffs as EE, O2 and Vodafone do. If you're with Three, you have compatible hardware and you're within range of one of their LTE masts, you have LTE. So! On to Vodafone, where their 4G LTE network is trailing the competition. It's now reached 50% UK coverage and their subscriber numbers are around half that of O2, which in turn is around half that of EE. So they're third out of three and quite a distant third, at that. Vodafone UK's Chief Executive Officer, Jeroen Hoencamp, has come out fighting and has this to say on Vodafone's LTE coverage: "It's not about who's got the most coverage, it's more about having the strongest signal." His remarks include that Vodafone doesn't want to expand the network quickly as it believe this would result in a thin and patchy network. There's a grain of truth here as the UK LTE networks have struggled to provide coverage and signal. Joen also talks about network performance and adds, "we could build a network just to achieve massive speeds but the reality is that you don't need anything beyond 20Mb/s on a mobile device. So we think less about absolute speed and more about using that bandwidth to enable more customers to enjoy great content on the move."
Ah, now the penny drops; Vodafone are thinking about upselling customers their own in-house services. And there's an element of this that takes place right across the UK industry. Vodafone's bundled goodies with their LTE service are arguably the best in the UK industry, as they offer deals with Spotify Premium, Sky Sports and NOW TV Entertainment. Vodafone 4G is all about the entertainment content that Vodafone provide first and foremost and the underlying technology second. And I appreciate this; it's thinking of the network as "that geeky stuff" just as we might with digital Freeview boxes. They're betting on how customers don't necessarily care how the stuff gets to our device, just that it does.
The four UK LTE carriers are all in very different boats. EE were given a spectrum headstart of almost a year and have access to 800 MHz, 1,800 MHz and 2,600 MHz LTE spectrum. They're using this to bring customers higher speed 4G connectivity and better coverage across the country. Meanwhile, O2 have a coverage obligation and so must provide a blanket level of mobile broadband coverage across the whole of the UK, which has them rolling out a massive network upgrade to provide 800 MHz LTE and 900 MHz / 2,100 MHz DC-HSDPA. Three can do whatever they want with their 800 MHz and 1,800 MHz LTE spectrum, which leaves Vodafone with spectrum at the 800 MHz and 2,600 MHz points. Vodafone have… been very selective in the regions that they're launched LTE coverage, shall we say. This is not because of a lack of sites: Vodafone and O2 have a mast site sharing partnership, which sees them using their own masts but on a shared site (which saves both businesses a lot of money). The business has the cell sites it needs, so perhaps Jeroen is waiting to announce another media or content partnership before upping the ante and increasing the speed of LTE deployment.
Do you use Vodafone UK? If so, do you have LTE coverage and what's it like? Or are you patiently waiting for LTE coverage to reach you so that you can compare Vodafone on an equal footing with the other three main UK carriers? Let us know in the comments below.