The UK's first operator-run 4G network from EE (formerly Everything Everywhere) has gone live in 11 cities today, offering "superfast" mobile download speeds to consumers and businesses.
In its first phase, the 4G service is going live in Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton. The service will be available in a further five cities before Christmas, with more cities and rural locations planned for 2013.
EE intends its 4G service to be available to 98% of the population by the end of 2014.
"Today is a landmark day for our company, the UK mobile industry and, most importantly, the country's businesses and consumers," said Olaf Swantee, CEO at EE.
EE claims that the benefits of 4G LTE include access to the web on the go in an instant, the ability to download large email attachments quicker than ever, watch live TV on the move without buffering and play live multiplayer games on the go.
However, these benefits come at a cost. The company's cheapest consumer package, which includes unlimited calls, texts and a 500MB data allowance, will cost £36, rising to £56 for EE's top-of-the-range 8GB package.
Small business packages range from £35 per month (excluding VAT) for 1GB to £50 for 16GB. Medium sized, public sector and corporate customers can sign up to 4G data plans from an additional £3 a month on top of their existing packages.
Commenting on the cost, Matthew Howett, regulation analyst at Ovum, said that EE has priced services at a premium but not at levels completely inaccessible to the mass market.
"It's fair to say that EE has attracted a fair degree of criticism not so much for the price of the 4G tariffs (they are only priced at a 10-20% premium on most 3G plans), but rather on the amount of data bundled at each level," he said.
"EE was always going to have a difficult role to play being the first mover. However, its peers may be grateful for attempting to move away from an all-you-can-eat world for data to an attempt to monetise it."
The launch was accompanied by some EE-sponsored research, which claims that 74 percent of UK businesses intend to adopt 4G within 12 months. It is believed that the superfast network could help British firms increase innovation, boost productivity and cut costs.
Similar business benefits have been realised by US, Swedish, Japanese and German 4G LTE-enabled organisations since the technology was first introduced, according to the EE and Arthur D. Little study.
Newcastle's business community is showing the strongest demand for 4G in the UK, outstripping London, the home of Tech City. When it comes to rollout within organisations, the study found CEOs and sales staff will be first in line to get the new technology.
"Businesses are using 4G LTE to bring a more fundamental level of mobility to their organisations. For example, 4G can be used to set up a fully-connected office almost anywhere, dramatically increasing agility and responsiveness," said the study's author, Joseph Place from Arthur D. Little.
"We also expect to see innovative 4G-specific products emerging, for instance in the mHealth arena. We're positive that UK businesses will begin to see such benefits as they roll out 4G during 2012 and beyond."
Commenting on the news, Gary Calcott, technical marketing manager at Progress Software said the greatest benefit will be for mobile applications on a 4G network where video streaming is required, as any 'data crunching' in a business sense will be performed on the back-end of the application, in the cloud.
"Applications which could benefit from rapid exchange of potentially large datasets, such as patient x-rays/MRT scans or complex construction plans, could also benefit considerably," he said.
"There may also be additional benefit for '4G enabled business apps' where the state of an interaction between the mobile app and the back-end can be quickly synchronised. Examples could include syncing a subset of a database or the state of a long-running business transaction."
EE also announced that its fibre broadband service is available to 11 million premises from today, offering maximum download speeds of up to 76Mbps. The company's fibre service, which piggybacks on BT infrastructure, will cover 50 percent of the population by the end of the year.