Orange And T-Mobile To Merge 3G Networks

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From next week, Orange and T-Mobile customers will be able to use each others’ 3G networks

Everything Everywhere – the combined entity of UK mobile operators Orange and T-Mobile – has starting merging the two companies’ data networks, providing better 3G coverage for UK customers.

T-Mobile and Orange customers have been able to access each others’ 2G networks to make calls and send texts since October 2010. This means that when a user loses a mobile phone signal, the handset locks onto either the T-Mobile or Orange signal, depending on which is stronger. Essentially it works in the same way as mobile roaming does when you are abroad.

The latest phase in the programme will also allow Orange and T-Mobile customers to use the 3G signals from both networks, not just their host network. This will benefit customers by offering faster Internet and data access, in more places across the UK than before, said Everything Everywhere in a statement.

Rolling out over next few months

The so-called “big switch-on” will start next week, and will roll-out region by region to all Orange and T-Mobile customers over the next few months. Customer charges remain the same when using the other network’s signal.

“Customers are always on the move and demanding instant access to information wherever they are. Not only will customers be able to talk in places they weren’t able to before, they’ll also now be able to access the internet, social networks or download emails at improved speeds, in more places,” said Olaf Swantee, chief executive of Everything Everywhere.

Everything Everywhere officially began operations as the UK’s biggest mobile operator in July 2010, with more than 30 million customers, or as the company points out, nearly half the entire UK population of about 61 million. The operator is jointly owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, which are respectively the owners of the Orange and T-Mobile brands.

Everything Everywhere looks set to dominate the mobile sector, as it holds the bulk of the 1800 MHz spectrum in the UK, and should have a significant advantage over other mobile networks. However, the organisation has complained that Ofcom’s plans to auction 800MHz spectrum for 4G mobile services favour Vodafone and O2.

4G auction unfair?

“The way the auction rules could play out now, it is perfectly possible Vodafone and O2 will have five times as much sub-1Ghz spectrum as either Three, Everything Everywhere, or anyone else”, said Kip Meek, the company’s Director of Public Affairs back in June. “That five to one ratio isn’t an effective redistribution.”

Everything Everywhere is therefore suggesting that Ofcom impose a cap on spectrum, and that it should be set at 2×120 MHz, to take into account the different characteristics of low and high frequency spectrum and differing numbers of customers on each operator’s networks.

Meanwhile, Everything Everywhere has teamed up with BT to test Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G technology in Cornwall, as a possible solution to the problem of broadband ‘not spots’ in rural areas. Around 200 people are taking part in the trial, which is taking place in St. Newlyn East and the surrounding area of South Newquay, which has low or no broadband service available.

The customer trial follows a “successful eight week laboratory trial which rigorously tested the network deployment in simulated conditions.” It seems the labs tests were necessary to prove it would be possible to share, manage and optimise valuable radio resources between the two service providers.

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