Ofcom Brings UK 4G Timetable Five Months Forward

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Peace talks between operators and Ofcom result in new timetable agreement, with services set to launch in Spring 2013

The threat of further delay to the UK 4G timetable appears to have been allayed after Ofcom and the major mobile operators agreed to bring the launch forward by five months.

The new timetable is the product of peace talks between the parties and could see Long Term Evolution (LTE) services rolled out by all the major networks as early as next spring.

O2, Vodafone and Three were infuriated by Ofcom’s earlier decision to allow EE to launch a 4G service on its existing spectrum ahead of the scheduled auction of 4G bandwidth, with legal action a real possibility.

The talks were part of a month long ceasefire brokered by the government during which no network could be launched and no lawsuits filed. The talks were entering their final week, but the new deal means that EE is on track to launch its 4G network by the end of the year, ending the UK’s long wait for LTE.

UK 4G Launch

“To further secure 4G services for UK consumers, in August Ofcom gave approval to an application by Everything Everywhere (now EE) to use some of its existing spectrum to offer a 4G service,” said Ofcom. “This is expected to launch this year.”

Ofcom reiterated that its aim was always to ensure that that 4G was available as soon as possible, but that it also wanted to ensure a competitive market. It added that the new deal was made possible because of discussions with television broadcasters and infrastructure operators to secure the earlier release of frequencies that had been used for digital terrestrial television.

“The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive. “Ofcom’s objective has always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and we remain focused on starting the auction by the end of the year.”

Well Received

The operators involved in the talks have welcomed the announcement.

“We welcome the statement from the DCMS and are pleased to have influenced the process to bring the date forward for universal access to 4G,” an O2 spokesperson told TechWeekEurope.

“We see this as positive step for UK consumers by removing the monopoly on LTE that would have benefited just one operator,” said Three.

Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was also pleased and emphasised the importance of 4G to the UK economy.

“Delivering 4G quickly is a key part of our economic growth strategy. I am grateful to the mobile operators for their co-operation in bringing forward vital 4G services,” she said. “The open and collaborative approach taken between the Government and the mobile companies will have hugely beneficial results for UK business and investment.”

“We anticipate that 4G services will boost the UK’s economy by around £2-3 billion,” she added. “I am grateful for the efforts of all concerned in bringing forward the 4G timetable.”

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