By Steve McCaskill
Vodafone UK CEO Jeroen Hoencamp has defended the operator's rollout of 4G, saying the company's priority is on creating a strong, reliable network rather than making the headlines with speed and coverage.
Since launching August 2013, Vodafone 4G has amassed 1.4 million customers and its network covers 50 percent of the U.K. population. However, this is far less than EE, which enjoyed a significant head start and has 7.7 million 4G subscribers to a network that covers 75 percent of the United Kingdom.
Hoencamp said Vodafone's use of low level frequencies like 800MHz will allow it to offer superior indoor coverage and that it would only ever declare a location to be 4G ready if it was able to serve the entire population—not just a town or city center.
No Need for Speed
"It's not about who's got the most coverage," he said. "It's more about having the strongest signal. We'd love to expand the network faster, but it's about doing it right the first time; I'd rather do it at the pace we're doing and get it right, than try to go faster and build a thin and flimsy network. You can have a few sites here and there, but that would give you a really patchy signal. We only turn 4G on when we have built or updated enough sites."
"For us it's about having the strongest network," he continued. "Wherever we build 4G, we've proved that we can deliver great unbeatable 4G speeds and coverage, but it's not a race to have the highest speeds because when it comes to mobile, speed only gets you so far."
"We could build a network just to achieve massive speeds but the reality is that you don't currently need anything beyond 20Mbps on a mobile device. Even for streaming video you only need a couple of megabits per second, so we think less about absolute speed and more about using that bandwidth to enable more customers to enjoy great content on the move, even in the busiest places and at the busiest times."
Not About Technology
Vodafone now offers LTE-Advanced, which combines 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, in London, Birmingham and Manchester and is trialing Voice over LTE (VoLTE). However, Hoencamp says customers don't care about technology—they just want a good service.
"Many customers don't know what 4G is," he added. "Many customers don't care what 4G is. All customers want is consistency, so that wherever they go they have strong signal, so that they can do what they want wherever they are. And you want to know that it's really a step up from what you've seen before. People tend to take technology for granted, so we need to make it seamless and easy for people to use, and worry free, so that they can forget about it."
Recent research from OpenSignal suggested that Vodafone had the fastest average 4G speeds in the United Kingdom at 12.21Mbps. However, while EE users were able to receive an LTE signal 50.22 percent of the time, Vodafone customers were only able to do so 38.39 percent of the time.
A separate study by Ofcom concluded that Vodafone 4G users in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Manchester could access average speeds of 14.3Mbps—less than those on EE and O2.