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4G launches today on O2 and Vodafone

O2 and Vodafone today launch their super-fast mobile data services, 10 months after EE kicked off 4G in the UK.

Nick Hide Managing copy editor
Nick manages CNET's advice copy desk from Springfield, Virginia. He's worked at CNET since 2005.
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Nick Hide
3 min read
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Your choice of 4G provider just got three times more complicated -- 10 months after EE launched 4G in the UK (and years after the US, Korea and other more enlightened countries), O2 and Vodafone today launch their super-fast mobile data services.

4G is finally here -- but when I say here, I don't mean everywhere. Not by a long shot. O2 4G is only available in Bradford, Leeds and London, while Vodafone is London only. Both promise more towns by the end of the year, while EE recently celebrated covering its 100th town.

It's way ahead in the coverage stakes, but we've long criticised EE for the stinginess of its data deals -- £26 for 500MB of data? No ta. So now that there's some competition, are they offering better deals? Can you finally get unlimited 4G data?

Nope. Neither Vodafone nor O2 are offering unlimited plans. They are both more generous than EE, however, with at least 1GB of data. O2 starts at £22 per month on a two-year Airtime deal, or £26 per month on a one-year Simplicity contract. Vodafone gives you 2GB for £26 per month on a one-year SIM-only deal, or £38 per month with a free Samsung Galaxy S4.

There are extras too: Vodafone is offering six months (or a year on more expensive contracts) of Sky Sports Mobile or Spotify, while O2 has a streaming music service called O2 Tracks ("nonstop access to the Official Top 40 on your phone") and some upcoming offers it hasn't specified yet, such as sport videos and free data for multiplayer gaming. It's also offering double data for the length of your contract if you sign up by 31 October.

Finally, Three has today announced it's launching 4G in December. It'll offer unlimited data for the same prices as its 3G contracts -- from £12.90 per month -- which sounds an awful lot more generous than the other big networks. Perhaps by December prices will have dropped, we'll have to wait and see.

"While pricing between current competition looks pretty similar across the board, Three certainly intends to spark a price war by offering unlimited data," said uSwitch telecoms expert Ernest Doku. "And with almost seven in ten consumers surveyed by uSwitch worried about racing through their allowances on 4G, Three's offering could be just what data-hungry smart-phone lovers are looking for."

My advice? If you're shopping around for a new phone today, don't get suckered into signing up for a hugely expensive two-year deal. I'd advise buying a phone that can use 4G -- they'll usually be marked as '4G Ready' -- but I'd stick with a short-term 3G deal for now. If you can, buy the phone upfront and get a rolling monthly SIM-only deal.

Are you upgrading to 4G today? Or waiting for better deals? Is it all academic until you can get decent coverage near you? Let me know your 4G thoughts in the comments, or on our super-fast Facebook page.