Three 4G: First 50 locations announced

In December, Three will join EE, O2 and Vodafone in offering 4G - but, unlike the others, won't charge any more than it currently does for 3G. So could it be worth waiting for?

The UK's fourth largest mobile network operator, Three, has announced it will launch 4G mobile internet in three English cities and five towns from December.

It means there'll be four major 4G networks to choose from - EE, O2, Vodafone and Three - although coverage and pricing vary between them, as some are less established than others and there's still some disagreement over whether 4G should cost extra.

Three 4G will initially cover just London, Manchester, Birmingham, Reading, Oldham, Dudley, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, but will be offered at no extra cost to Three customers with a 4G device in those areas.

The service will be then rolled out to a total of 50 towns and cities during 2014.

EE, by far the UK's biggest 4G network, as well as O2 and Vodafone - both aiming to reach at least 10 cities before the end of this year - will charge you a premium for the 'superfast' technology. Three's also the only provider to have promised unlimited 4G data plans.

Announcing the details, Three said: "We think everyone should enjoy the wonders of 4G with no catches. So when we start rolling out 4G, we'll nudge up our customers who have a 4G-ready device at no extra cost. No hefty price tag, no extra charges ... and no fuss."

Perhaps the reason Three won't be charging extra is that, unlike some of its rivals, it has a pretty fast 3G network - so 4G won't actually make a huge difference to customers' speeds.

Three's best 3G reception, with mobile internet speeds of around 12Mb, is limited to urban areas, roughly 80% of the UK population, but can offer a near-4G experience to people in towns where 4G's yet to arrive, and for those who can't afford or don't want to pay current 4G prices.

If you want 4G right now, EE has the fastest network overall, and a scheme is already underway to upgrade 4G cities with double speeds - better than most people's internet at home - although rival Vodafone's more generous with its data plans.

From now until the end of October, Vodafone's giving both new and existing 4G customers an extra 4GB of data per month - on top of their normal monthly allowance - for the entire duration of their current contract.

The one big downside, however, is that Vodafone 4G is currently only available to customers living in London. The company plans to reach 98% of the population by 2015, starting with Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield at the end of this month.

If you're able and/or willing to wait a while longer before upgrading to 4G, it's likely Three, at least with the market as it stands, will give you the best value for money.

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