Mobile Operators Say UK 4G Journey Is Only Beginning

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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Major operators call for UK 4G competitive market and further help from regulators

UK operators have called on regulators and government to enact measures that would speed up the rollout of 4G in the country and ensure a competitive market with quality services.

Speaking at the Westminster eForum in London today, executives from Vodfaone, EE, Telefonica UK (O2) and Three all agreed that 4G would bring a myriad of economic and social benefits, but stressed that the UK was only at the beginning of its LTE journey.

“We’re proud to say we launched the first 4G service in the UK on 30 October,” said Marc Overton, vice president of wholesale and M2M at EE, adding that it had ambitious plans to achieve 98 percent coverage by the end of 2014 and that it was providing customers with speeds five times faster than 3G.

UK 4G Benefits

Overton acknowledged that it would soon have “competitors with equally ambitious plans,” once the auction of 4G spectrum is completed early next year, but Phil Sheppard, director of network strategy at Three, questioned the value of launching early by pointing out that DC-HSPDA+ provided realistic speeds of 12Mbps, comparable with the 13Mbps that can be realistically expected on LTE.

Matthew Broavac, head of regulatory affairs at Vodafone, admitted that although the UK was behind countries like USA, Japan and South Korea, it wasn’t actually that far behind other European nations and that starting a little bit later wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as operators learned the lessons from other deployments.

He said that a competitive marketplace was necessary if consumers and businesses were to harness the benefits of 4G, but said that there were a number of issues that the industry as a whole must tackle. These include changing the “slow and bureaucratic” planning process and tighter control on BT pricing for backhaul links – fibre connections which jonik mobile sites to data centres and the internet

Broavac’s sentiments were echoed by Three’s Sheppard, who called on Ofcom to release more spectrum in the future to cope with the growing appetite for mobile data. He said that there were several bands that this could come from, chiefly spectrum used by the Ministry of Defence and the government. The 700MHz band, which is currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), was described as challenging, “but doable”.

Working together

LTE4G © Fotolia.comAll were in agreement that some cooperation, such as network sharing, was the way forward. Telefonica and Vodafone have agreed a deal to share network sites, while EE and Three have had a similar arrangement for a number of years.

However Derek McManus, COO of Telefonica UK, rejected the idea that closer integration was practical. A suggestion that each operator could take control of one part of the country and that customers effectively ‘roam’ each others’ networks was seen as undesirable because control over the customer experience would be lost.

He also said that he could envisage any of the joint-ventures bidding for spectrum in the near future and that such a bid would be legally impossible in the upcoming auction of 4G spectrum.

Ofcom recently announced plans to bring the auction forward by five months after securing the early release of the spectrum up for grabs.

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