It looks like we have a winner in the race to launch Spain's first 4G service, with a surprise announcement from Vodafone that its LTE network will go live this week.
From Wednesday, Vodafone will offer 4G access in seven of the country's biggest cities: Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia.
Businesses using Vodafone's Red3, Red Pro 3 and those using Vodafone's 10GB plan will see 4G connectivity included free of charge, the company said in a statement. Subscribers to upgrade for free during a promotional period will run until the end of September. After that, prices will cost from €9 per month more than current tariffs.
Vodafone's 4G services will use 1800Mhz and 2600MHz spectrum and will offer download speeds of up to 150Mbps and upload speeds of 50Mbps, the company said.
Initially the service will cover around 55 percent of each of the launch cities' populations, and Vodafone reckons that by the end of the summer it will have 1,000 base stations in place which will increase coverage to 85 percent outdoors and 60 percent indoors.
Rival mobile operators Yoigo and Orange had both previously claimed they would be the first to launch 4G services in Spain and were both subsequently pipped to the post by another operator. Orange's 4G offering will go live on 8 July, while Yoigo's own fourth-generation services will follow days later. Yoigo, Spain's fourth largest operator in terms of subscribers, will offer 4G services free of charge for current users.
Vodafone's announcement leaves Telefonica-owned Movistar, the country's largest mobile operator, as the only one without 4G services. The company is however expected to launch its own services later this summer.
Vodafone has been suffering during the recession in Spain, with its first quarter results revealing an 11.5 percent year on year drop in revenue from services and Spanish telecoms regulator CMT claiming it had lost 81,000 subscribers in March alone. The volume of SMS messages sent over its network has halved over the last two years as users switch to free alternatives such as WhatsApp, Apple's iMessage and BlackBerry's BBM.
The Spanish's Prime Minister's office has already stated that 4G could boost the struggling economy by up to €12bn over the next few years.