Mobile phone operators Vodafone and O2 joined the 4G party today after they switched on their own 4G networks in three UK cities. 

Vodafone’s 4G network will initially only cover parts of London while O2’s will be available in London, Leeds and Bradford.

The operators will compete with rival EE, which launched 4G in October 2012 and has been the only firm up until now to offer the “super-fast” mobile data service. EE said in July that it had signed 687,000 users up to 4G but this still only accounted for 2.5 per cent of its 27 million customers.

O2's 4G tariffs start at £26 a month for 1GB of data, while Vodafone's cheapest tariff costs £34 and comes with 2GB of data. In order to get 2GB of data a month from EE the cheapest tariff is £41 per month. O2 doesn't offer a 2GB tariff. 

Vodafone said 12 more locations would get switched on before the end of the year. They include: Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. Meanwhile, O2 said it is planning to rollout 4G to a further 10 cities by the end of the year, including: Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh.

UK market leader EE announced yesterday that it has expanded its 4G network to 105 towns and cities across the UK, but it still only reaches 60 percent of UK citizens.

Three will become the final major mobile phone operator to turn on 4G when it launches in London, Birmingham and Manchester in December. Unlike the other operators, Three said it would offer 4G to existing customers at no extra cost and offer unlimited data.

Each of the mobile operators are using chunks of spectrum across the 2.6Ghz, 1.8Ghz and 800Mhz bands.

The UK isn’t the only country to offer multiple 4G networks. Many countries boast more comprehensive networks that reach a larger proportion of the population. As of July, there were over 200 4G networks available in 76 countries.

Now that O2 and Vodafone have entered the market, Ronan de Renesse, telecoms analyst at Analysys Mason, said he thinks the number of 4G users in the UK will rocket in the next few years.

“The UK will be the third-largest 4G market in Europe by the end of 2014, with nearly eight million connections, after France and Germany,” he said. “The country’s thirst for high-end mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets will be a major driver for 4G connectivity.”

However, the firms will have a challenge if they want to persuade UK customers to sign up to the faster network after a report released earlier this month by industry regulator Ofcom found that nearly a quarter of UK mobile users said they did not see any benefit of moving to the superfast mobile network. 

Ofcom has also estimated that 4G services will provide at least £20bn in benefits to UK consumers over the next ten years.

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