The 4G auction results have finally been announced. And while the £2.4 billion total spend appears to be well below what George Osborne was hoping to cream off from mobile operators, the starting gun has at last been fired for the race to be 4G king.
EE’s offering, six months old and increasingly popular, is leading the charge.
But for 4G to become a mainstream success, the networks need to make sure they tick off these key factors first.
1 Keep tariff costs low
A no-brainer, but charging a hefty premium for 4G is going to win few punters round in these straitened times.
EE has cut costs already, but Three’s decision to give customers 4G at no extra cost, announced earlier this month, has already ruffled feathers.
It will be interesting to see how O2, Vodafone and EE justify their likely higher prices to consumers (more of which in a moment).
If prices are too high, those looking to join the 4G revolution will vote with their feet and wait until they become more affordable.
2 Expand to rural areas quickly
This is absolutely essential. Not only to give people in rural locales access to 4G, but to help boost business in parts of the country that are being left behind thanks to chronic lack of connectivity.
This is the responsibility of every network, as they all have a slice of the low frequency spectrum required to make a go of a decent rural network.
Vodafone and EE, the carriers with both high and low frequency spectrum, must not be tempted into favouring high frequency areas in cities to the detriment of the countryside. The time for proper, nationwide 4G coverage is now, not months or years down the line.
3 Be straight-up with consumers
Educating people about 4G should not simply be a task in up-selling the priciest contract in store.
The focus needs to be on explaining 4G’s benefits, from faster browser access to improved downloads, while not undercutting people’s data allowance and seeing them clobbered with hefty fees month after month.
There were huge failings in this regard when 3G launched and this needs to be addressed this time round. People need to know what phones are required for 4G to work and how much it’ll cost from the get go.
4 Range as many handsets as possible
Picking and choosing a couple of 4G handsets and foisting the ones you’ve got in the stock room on an unwilling public just won’t cut it.
With only a handful of 4G smartphones on the market, every network should endeavour to sell each one and explain the benefits without bias to the consumer.
That means no ‘you need to have X phone over Y phone because you won’t understand how Y phone works’-style selling.
What we need is straight-up advice on every HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony, BlackBerry, Nokia and Apple 4G blower going.
5 Bundle stacks of extras
Here’s where premium prices can perhaps be justified. While Three is all about low, low prices, expect O2 to follow EE’s free weekly film deals with early access to concerts and O2-backed events.
This can be the only way to make it okay to pay more for a 4G deal. But guys, can we be clear?
Let’s not call these ‘free’ as part of the deal. Consumers are paying for them, so say just use the word ‘included’ instead.