France's SFR is one of the European operators to already launch 4G

By Will Goodbody, Science and Technology Correspondent

If you are wondering what the cost of 4G will be when the Irish operators start offering it here from the autumn, a few clues are emerging from across the water. A few hints too as to the inducements they may offer to get people to adopt early.

Last week O2 announced details of its launch of 4G in Britain. Today it was the turn of Vodafone. It will launch on August 29th, the same day as O2 will also open its network to customers in the UK. Vodafone’s 4G offering will begin at £26 (€30) a month for a SIM only 12 month contract – the same as O2. Like the other operators, Vodafone’s 4G service will initially only be available in London at launch, spreading to 12 more cities by the end of the year.

Of course, Britons have had access to 4G since October last year, through EE. It is already offering the service at £21 a month, the equivalent of about €24. A joint venture between Orange and Deutsche Telekom, it has attracted 687,000 customers onto its 24-30Mbps service in 15 cities, and 12-15 Mbps services in a further 80 towns and cities. Three will also launch its offering by the end of the year.

The introduction of superfast 4G services is expected to herald massive growth in mobile video and audio streaming, which will lead to much greater demand for data. Vodafone has decided to offer unlimited data for three months to customers who switch to 4G, but the data will otherwise be capped at 8GB a month. All the other operators, with the exception of Three, have said they too will cap data usage, something which will likely annoy heavy use customers when the service is up and running. To increase those caps, those customers will have to pay more.

In and of themselves, the pricing and data cap details are interesting. They indicate that despite spending hundreds of millions of pounds on acquiring licences and building networks, the British operators have decided not to charge a significant premium for access to the eagerly anticipated service.

But perhaps of even more interest is the additional inducements that will be on offer to entice customers in. Vodafone has turned to sports and music to set its 4G superfast mobile service apart. It will offer 150 hours of Premier League soccer from Sky Sports or music from online streaming service Spotify Premium. Outlining the company’s strategy, Vodafone UK’s chief executive, Guy Lawrence, said 4G was all about entertainment. Vodafone has clearly taken the view that it’s the bundle, not the speed or coverage, that will entice customers to adopt the new service.

O2 has also gone the entertainment route, saying it will offer a year’s free music content to 4G subscribers, although it hasn’t revealed how. It has also promised further announcements on gaming inducements.

The next step now in Britain is the launch of 4G. Britain, like Ireland, has been slow to introduce superfast mobile broadband compared with the US and other European countries. Last month, the European Commission heavily criticised mobile operators across the EU for not rolling out 4G faster, with Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes saying networks in Europe were teetering on the edge of collapse because of capacity issues.

Let’s hope 4G arrives in time.