Crunch day tomorrow for Britain’s 4G

Government’s final roll of the dice to avoid court action

Last ditch attempts to broker a ceasefire over Britain’s 4G roll-out take place tomorrow [2nd October 2012] when network operators meet to avert litigation.¬†Though the auction of 4G airwaves isn’t due to take place until the end of the year [2012], these now could be brought forward by the government if the warring parties agree to support Ofcom proposals. Earlier this year EE – Britain’s largest operator and the parent company of Orange and T-Mobile – won approval from Ofcom to run 4G on its existing spectrum, with Three also being allowed to use a slice of its airwaves.

But rival mobile operators, Vodafone and O2, accused the regulator of giving EE an unfair competitive advantage and threatened to go to court unless the 4G auction was brought forward.

Now, with EE’s own super-fast services due to be introduced in just over three weeks’ time [October 23rd 2012], everything hinges on tomorrow’s talks and the ability of culture secretary Maria Miller and Ofcom to convince Vodafone and O2 they won’t lose out.

Expectations are high that most of the issues surrounding 4G can be reached, though whether bringing forward the auction date is enough remains to be seen.

Behind the scenes it’s thought Vodafone and O2 have lobbied Ofcom to let them reuse their existing 3G spectrum for 4G, though until now the regulator has said it could take five to 10 years to free this up due to its existing heavy usage.

If that remains the case then the government’s only other option is to fast-track its 4G auction, ideally allowing to EE’s rivals to introduce their own services before the end of the year or soon after, compared to merely completing the auction process by next March as originally planned.

None of the network operators have commented on tomorrow’s talks.

* The Office of Fair Trading has given the green light for Vodafone and O2 to merge their networks, ensuring a wider base for 4G services when they arrive. The approval, first mooted in June 2012 but now made official, followed the merger of T- Mobile and Orange to create Everything Everywhere, now rebranded EE.
Vodafone and O2 will share design, management and maintenance of the merged network with O2 handling the UK’s eastern half, including Northern Ireland and Scotland, and Vodafone the west including Wales. The move will also make it possible for the two operators to bring 2G and 3G coverage to 99 per cent of the population by 2015, two years before Ofcom’s 2017 deadline, it’s claimed.

About Dave Evans

Dave Evans is a long established commentator on both the IT and cellular industries. His current focus is on share price trends within the sector. You can email him here
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