Vodafone has announced its 4G roll-out for Germany, though it seems it'll be Americans making the first 4G phone call.
Vodafone Germany will have LTE coverage in 1,000 municipalities by Christmas, and Vodafone promises a national network by the end of 2011. That will be a data network using dongles for connecting laptops, in common with other LTE roll-outs, so it seems America's metroPCS will be the first to launch a 4G phone network over which customers will make phone calls.
Long Term Evolution is the 4G standard preferred by the existing network operators and just about everyone else. There aren't any LTE handsets just yet, although the Samsung Craft has passed FCC certification and is expected to be deployed by metroPCS once its LTE network starts operation later this month.
That will give customers in Dallas and Las Vegas the chance to make voice calls over a 4G network, but we can't help wondering whether the Craft (a featurephone rather than a smartphone) is going to be able to take full advantage of the high-speed connections.
LTE is overkill for voice, and to most people 4G is about data supplied to laptops and similar. That's reflected in the tariffs announced by Vodafone Germany, which will be asking €40 a month (around £33) for 7.2Mb/s, with a 10GB cap, rising to €70 (almost £60) for 50Mb/s speed capped at 30GB. Bust the cap and you're reduced to 3G speeds until the end of the month.
That's a high price compared to ADSL, but (coverage allowing) the Vodafone offering makes home broadband redundant, so is better compared to a combination of mobile and fixed broadband.
Vodafone isn't the only network rolling out LTE in Germany, as DailyWireless points out. Telefonica has announced plans to cover Munich and Halli by the end of the year while Deutsche Telekom already has on LTE base station operating in Brandenberg, though one station does not a roll-out make.
All this action follows on from last year's auctions, when the German government sold off a whole bundle of radio spectrum for a combined price of €4.4bn. Not only does that supply operators with frequencies to operate in, but also removes the uncertainty about who will end up owning what.
This is unlike the UK, where decisions about what to do with pre-allocated radio spectrum have yet to be made. This is a prerequisite for a similarly-scaled mega-auction planned for later this year. Vodafone and O2 have the spectrum at the moment, and will be forced to give some up ahead of the auction, but will fight all the way to avoid doing that.
The incumbent operators have nothing to gain from an early auction, allowing them to leave the UK with 3G technology while rolling out the next generation elsewhere. ®