Ofcom Approves Everything Everywhere 4G Network, But Vodafone Fumes


Ofcom will allow Everything Everywhere to deploy a 4G LTE network this year, but rival Vodafone is not happy

Ofcom has given its provisional blessing to allow Everything Everywhere to deploy a 4G LTE or WiMax network in 2012, using the spectrum it already owns.

Last month it was reported that Everything Everywhere could become the first UK mobile operator to launch a commercial 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, after it emerged that it had already applied to Ofcom to run the network on its existing airwaves on a small scale, before apparently expanding the service.

Ofcom Approval

Ofcom has now considered Everything Everywhere’s proposal to reuse its existing spectrum to deliver 4G services, and has given its blessing to the move, much to the ire of its rivals including Vodafone.

“Ofcom has considered whether allowing Everything Everywhere to use this spectrum in this way would distort competition, and provisionally concluded that it would not,” said the UK communications regulator. “And given the benefits this would bring to consumers, Ofcom is minded to allow this change of use.”

“Interested parties have four weeks in which to submit their views on this proposed change,” it added.

The surprise decision from Ofcom comes before the 4G spectrum auction is due to take place later this year. Essentially, Ofcom will allow Everything Everywhere (Orange/T-Mobile UK) to vary its 1800 MHz spectrum licences for a 4G deployment. Such a move would give it an advantage over rivals Vodafone and O2 who are waiting for more frequencies to become available before launching a similar offering.

The perpetually delayed auction for 4G spectrum in the UK was delayed even more last year after Ofcom decided to launch a second consultation, following fierce criticism and threats of legal action from some mobile operators of its auction proposals. Ofcom had previously said that it wouldn’t delay the process any more, but has since warned that a commercial 4G network may not be available in the UK for another four years, with the auction likely to take place in the fourth quarter of this year.

EE celebrates, Vodafone surprised

Predictably Ofcom’s decision has delighted Everything Everywhere, but has left some of its rivals less than impressed.

“It’s very important that the UK does not get left behind in the building of a new infrastructure for the digital economy”, commented Everything Everywhere. “We welcome today’s notice of 1800MHz licence variation from Ofcom, as it suggests Ofcom’s willingness to encourage the early deployment of 4G LTE.”

But Vodafone told TechWeekEurope that it was puzzled by Ofcom’s decision.

“The next generation of mobile internet services has the potential to bring substantial benefits to British consumers, businesses and the wider economy,” said Vodafone UK’s Richard Wray in an emailed statement.“But the full benefits will only be realised if there is more than one network providing 4G services.”

“In its plans for the spectrum auction in early 2013, Ofcom has already stated it wants competition among four operators,” he said. “So it comes as a surprise that the regulator is now considering giving the largest player in the market permission to use its existing spectrum for 4G services before the rules for the auction have even been concluded or it has divested spectrum as required by the European Commission.”

Vodafone’s point here is in reference to Everything Everywhere, which was formed after Orange and T-Mobile merged in July 2010. As part of a deal to gain the European Commission approval of the deal, Everything Everywhere is being forced to sell a quarter of its 1800MHz bandwidth.

Consumer Best Interest?

“We share the regulator’s desire to see the next generation of mobile internet services rolled out quickly and placed within the reach of many more people in rural areas,” Vodafone’s Wray added. “But we seriously doubt that consumers’ best interests will be served by giving one company a significant head start before any of its competitors have a clear path to 4G.”

Vodafone said it would need to review Ofcom’s reasons for pressing ahead with liberalisation of Everything Everywhere’s existing spectrum before making its submission as part of the current consultation.

TechWeekEurope contacted 3UK and O2 for their thoughts on the matter, but they did not respond at the time of writing.

It is important to note that Everything Everywhere will not be the first to launch a LTE network in the UK. All the mobile operators in the UK have run 4G trials, but the first commercial launch of an LTE network was actually done by UK Broadband in February, when it switched on a LTE network in Southbank and Southwark boroughs of London using its 3.5 GHz spectrum. It will begin offering commercial 4G LTE services from May 2012 on a wholesale basis.

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