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O2 joins 4G party on 29 August with tariffs from £26 a month

EE’s reign as the sole UK provider of 4G mobile services is nearly over, as O2 this morning announced a 29 August launch for its own high-speed mobile network.

London, Leeds, and Bradford will be the first locations covered by the O2 spectrum at the end of the month, reaching some five million people. By the end of 2013, the Telefónica subsidiary plans to offer 4G in a total of 13 cities, with further switch-on dates set to be revealed in the “coming weeks.”

O2’s 4G contracts will start from £26 a month - £5 more than EE’s cheapest 4G rate. It was hoped a new competitor on the next-gen mobile data market would help bring tariff prices down, particularly as EE was criticised for over-pricing contracts after launching its network last year. But O2’s announcement suggests Three, Vodafone et al will also need to enter the 4G space before prices start falling. O2 has not yet provided any more details on its data plans.

The company says its 4G networks will provide data speeds up to five times faster than its current 3G services. O2 invested some £550 million to secure one of the highest proportions of the UK’s lowest frequency spectrum (800MHz), and says the frequency delivers “the best indoor penetration and outdoor reach.”

The operator is likely to push these selling points hard, as EE and Vodafone also purchased 2.6GHz spectrum frequencies which are capable of offering higher speeds than the 800MHz band.

“The full potential of 4G is as yet unexplored, but what we can be sure of is that it will allow for a whole new world of opportunity that people are now ready for,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO of Telefónica UK.

“Over half of our customers say they use more data than two years ago and even more use wifi wherever they go, to always stay connected. Given this trend, there is no doubt that 4G will transform our lives, be it as consumers, in business or through public sector services,” Dunne adds.

As with customers who upgraded to EE’s network, existing O2 customers will require a 4G-enabled phone and 4G data plan to take advantage of the new spectrum.