800Mhz to be industry standard in coming years
UK mobile operators O2 and Vodafone could get a shot at 4G as early as May next year  if talks tonight [2nd October 2012] with regulator Ofcom see a rush clearance of the airwaves. Ofcom is said to be working with Arqiva, the company largely responsible for the Britain’s TV transmissions, to free up spectrum fast so that delays over the introduction of 4G are minimised. It follows threats by O2 and Vodafone to sue over an earlier decision by the regulator to let EE, the parent company of T-Mobile and Orange, use existing spectrum for 4G ahead of its rivals. With the clock ticking and EE’s own 4G services set to start in just over three weeks’ time, tonight’s talks are widely seen as crucial to avert litigation.
If the release of new spectrum is put in the fast lane, as indicated, then widespread 4G services in Britain could start mid-Spring , helping the UK catch up with countries such as Sweden, Germany and the USA.
Until now Vodafone and O2 have been forced to wait for the auction of new spectrum, which is being freed by moving television signals from analogue to digital, but Ofcom’s hitherto timetable of starting the bidding process in December with a phasing in of freed 4G spectrum in Summer 2013, has been dismissed by EE’s rivals as uncompetitive.
As talks in London continued, Ronan Dunne – chief executive of O2 – acknowledged that bringing forward the 4G launch could make the company rethink its plans to sue.
He told journalists, “In a perfect world we would have all liked to go at the same time.”
“But to have certainty of being able to launch services in the summer of 2013 is an awful lot better than not having anything until 2014.”
“It feels like we have come a long way from where we were four or five weeks ago.”
Update: Ofcom’s plans to open up 4G airwaves in May next year, five months earlier than planned, brought an end to threats of litigation in the early hours of this morning [3rd October 2012]. Four tranches of the mobile spectrum at the 800 MHz frequency, will be auctioned at the end of the year, allowing the four major operators to operate 4G around next June or July after testing.
Few current phones will be able to use the new services, however, including Apple’s iPhone 5 which can run on EE’s 1800 MHz network but not the newly available frequency. Nokia and Samsung flagship phones will be able to access 4G services, with 800 MHz compatibility expected to become an industry standard in the coming years.