4G Rollout Delay To Cost British Businesses Dear

British businesses will lose hundreds of millions of pounds a year because of the UK government’s delay in rolling out 4G mobile broadband, says a new report.

The report, from the policy advisory group Open Digital, states that 4G will allow for much faster mobile broadband data downloads compared to the snail-like experience many of us experience with today’s over-burdened 3G networks.

According to Open Digital, the faster download speeds of 4G could save more than 37 million business hours a year, and these extra hours are costing UK businesses £732 million a year.

UK Lagging… Again

It pointed to the fact that other countries, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Korea have already launched 4G fast mobile broadband. This, it argues, puts UK businesses at a commercial and technological disadvantage.

“Visitors to Britain will first notice London’s lack of 4G mobile data when they arrive for the Olympics next year,” says James Firth, report co-author and CEO of Open Digital. “In addition to the lost time through slow mobile data, UK businesses won’t be able to fully benefit from new cloud-based business tools until the UK has a nationwide reliable high speed mobile data network.”

Ofcom of course is planning to allocate the necessary radio spectrum for 4G in an auction next year, but it does not anticipate the first commercial 4G services to come online before 2013, and nationwide roll-out apparently won’t be complete before 2017.

Ofcom published proposals for the auction of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz regions in March, with plans to hold the auction itself in the first half of 2012.

“The plan to start UK deployment in 2013 is 4 years behind the world’s first LTE deployments in Oslo and Stockolm and 3 years behind the first commercial service in the United States,” wrote the report’s authors.

“Our findings also put the cost to the UK economy from the recently announced delay of 3-6 months in holding the auction to allocate the licenses necessary to run 4G services in the UK will cost the economy £183m – £366m,” it added.

Open Digital said it is calling on Ofcom to adopt more ambitious roll-out targets and for the government to acknowledge the massive benefit to the economy from 4G mobile data.

Auction Controversy

The proposed 4G auction has drawn the criticism of some mobile operators in the UK, prompting fears of disruptive and lengthy legal challenges. Indeed, the language from the operators has been dramatic.

O2 has already complained that guaranteeing spectrum to Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile and Orange) and 3UK equates to “illegal state aid” while 3 described the plan as a “boot on its head” that could force it to wind up its operations.

Last month the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, pleaded with operators to avoid delaying the auction process any further.

Ofcom Denial

However Ofcom denied in early September that its 4G auction was being delayed. The auction process is still on target, an Ofcom spokesperson told eWEEK Europe at that time. This was despite some media reports that Ofcom would miss the November deadline to reveal the auction details.

“Ofcom has been very explicit in its aim to begin the 4G auction as soon as is practicable and this remains our objective,” the spokesperson said at that time. “However, this is a complex area, involving a large number of technical and competition issues that we need to consider and resolve before finalising proposals.

“For example, a very high proportion of households in the UK rely on Digital Terrestrial TV – Freeview – which needs to be relocated before 4G can be rolled out. This kind of complex problem needs to be properly addressed before we award the spectrum,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile the Conservatives have pledged recently pledged £150 million to improve mobile coverage in the UK’s so called mobile ‘not-spots.’

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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