London - Super-fast mobile internet has officially arrived in the UK amid a fanfare of pop concerts, parties at Battersea power station and photo ops.
Vodafone and O2 both launched their 4G mobile networks on Thursday, joining rival mobile operator EE, which had monopolised the service since last October.
Three, meanwhile, announced plans to launch its 4G network in December, while BT, the final company to win space on 4G spectrum during last year's auction, is still considering its options.
4G, which stands for fourth generation, gives subscribers access to mobile internet at speeds of 8 -12 megabits a second, comparable with home-broadband services, and up to six times faster than 3G, the mobile internet network that has operated since 2003. Operators are betting big on it.
All the providers are aiming to have their networks covering 98 percent of the UK by the end of 2015, a requirement of the regulator Ofcom. But outside London, where O2 and Vodafone launched their services, 4G coverage will be patchy for a while yet.
O2 also launched 4G in Bradford and Leeds, and plans to be in another 10 cities by the end of the year, while Vodafone will be in Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham, and Sheffield within a month.
EE, meanwhile, has made the most of its head start and this week announced its 4G network now covers more than 100 towns and cities, and said it plans to reach almost all of the UK by the end of next year.
Known technically as Long Term Evolution, or LTE, 4G is a way of accessing the internet wirelessly at faster speeds than previously available, on a mobile or tablet or via a dongle. In practice this will mean the end of waiting for videos and music to start streaming when watching or listening online and will cut download times for web pages, emails and files.
Those who stand to benefit most from the new network are those living in rural areas who have suffered without fast internet either because of distance or cost. Ofcom's 98 percent coverage stipulation means almost all of the UK will eventually have access to near-broadband speeds.
Super-fast mobile internet will benefit business too. James Barford, a telecoms analyst at Enders Anlysis, says: “There'll be relatively few business where it tips the balance, but these things are constantly changing. Over the next few years people will develop things that make sense on 4G that wouldn't make sense on 3G.”
But speed alone may not be enough to woo customers.
Mr Barford adds: “All of the operators are struggling to sell the advantages because it's thousands of little things as opposed to one big thing. The big revolution was the smartphone revolution and broadly this is more of the same. 4G allows a faster experience which you'll probably only notice on the most modern handsets.”
A survey by Ofcom earlier this year found 36 percent of people wouldn't upgrade to 4G once their contract ran out, while 34 percent had no opinion.
The operators are attempting to lure subscribers with different add-ons to take advantage of 4G: Vodafone is offering free access to either the online music service Spotify Premium or to Sky Sports Mobile, while EE has its own mobile film and TV store and O2 has introduced a music-streaming service. - The Independent