Ineffective National Roaming Would Slow 4G Rollout ‘By Two Years’

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EE and the GSMA voice opposition to government national roaming plans as consultation ends, saying it would reduce network investment and damage economy

Government plans to force mobile operators to offer their signal to customers of rival networks in areas with poor coverage would be ineffective, damage the economy and delay the full rollout of 4G by up to two year, a new report has claimed.

Research carried out by Capital Economics and commissioned by EE claims that such a proposal would only increase coverage by two to four percent and would discourage operators from investing in their infrastructure, resulting in an annual reduction in spending of between £360 and £440 million. The knock-on effect of this would be a 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent reduction in GDP.

All four major UK operators oppose the creation of a ‘national roaming network’, saying it would remove the incentive to invest in network infrastructure and would be unfair given the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on 4G licences in the Ofcom spectrum auction last year.

4G Delay

4G © Shkanov Alexey Shutterstock 2012The networks add that such a system would be more costly and complex than an international roaming system and would only aid voice calls, not data, something that would be counter-intuitive at a time when a collective £5.5 billion is being spent on the rollout of 4G, with a similar amount expected to be spent on ‘densifying’ coverage.

“EE’s consultation response reflects our longstanding view that while we support the ambition to improve rural coverage, the Government‘s proposal for National Roaming is a flawed concept,” said an EE spokesperson. “Instead, together with the other major UK network operators, we will propose a solution that helps solve the problem of rural coverage, without any of the technical, economic and competitive barriers of National Roaming.”

Talks between operators and government to find a voluntary solution earlier this year failed, leading the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to launch a formal consultation, which concluded yesterday, into the matter.

TechWeekEurope understands that a number of alternatives, such as voice over Wi-Fi, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and more network sharing were proposed during the operators’ meetings with the government, but all were ignored.

GSMA opposition

The GSMA, which represents the mobile industry, has endorsed EE’s findings and says that given the importance of communications in everyday life and the mobile industry’s impact on the economy, an alternative solution must be found. Around 140,000 people are employed in the sector in the UK, with 35,400 working at EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.

4G, Mobile, Smartphone © Digital Storm Shutterstock 2012“The GSMA believes there are alternative solutions for tackling the issue of partial not-spots in the UK outside of mandated national roaming, which is technically complex, expensive and would impede law enforcement activities,” said Tom Phillips, chief regulatory officer at the GSMA.

“Most importantly, as such a scheme is likely to result in issues making, receiving and maintaining calls, we need to look at other ways of ensuring that the consumer experience is continually enhanced.”

The organisation suggests reducing the cost of spectrum licences so operators could free up money to invest in coverage or to reduce the amount of red tape to make it easier to deploy network infrastructure to boost capacity and speed.

“In conclusion, we believe the solution to tackling partial not-spots is through continued investment in our mobile networks, enabled by a favourable regulatory environment,” added Phillips. “In our commitment to ensuring the best possible consumer experience, the GSMA and its members are actively engaged in a range of ongoing initiatives aimed at improving 2G, 3G and 4G coverage and the capability of mobile infrastructure, both in the UK and around the world.”

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