The UK could get 4G by the end of this year, after Ofcom introduced plans to allow Everything Everywhere to refarm its 2G spectrum for the LTE mobile services.
Ofcom has given the green light for Everything Everywhere to refarm its 2G spectrum for LTE services. Image credit: Karen Friar
On Tuesday, the telecoms regulator said it has considered the mobile operator's application to use its 1800MHz spectrum for high-demand 4G LTE data services. The company, the parent of Orange and T-Mobile, is currently licensed to use the band for voice calls and texting.
"Allowing Everything Everywhere to re-use its spectrum in this way is likely to bring material benefits to consumers, including faster mobile broadband speeds and — depending on how Everything Everywhere uses the spectrum — potentially wider mobile broadband coverage in rural areas," the regulator said in a statement.
"Ofcom has considered whether allowing Everything Everywhere to use this spectrum in this way would distort competition, and provisionally concluded that it would not," it added. "Given the benefits this would bring to consumers, Ofcom is minded to allow this change of use."
The mobile operator has been pushing for Ofcom's permission for the spectrum re-use. This would allow Everything Everywhere to start offering the high-speed data services to its customers before the end of 2012 — about a year ahead of rivals that have to wait for the outcome of the government's spectrum auction.
The 4G auction of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands is currently scheduled for the final quarter of this year, which would mean data services on these bands would start to emerge by the end of 2013.
Under earlier auction plans, Everything Everywhere had been promised a chunk of the 800MHz
spectrum, to the displeasure of other operators such as O2 and Vodafone.
In order to clear the deadlock, Ofcom revised its 4G auction plans, to remove the reserved allocation to Everything Everywhere.
Ofcom said that "interested parties" have until 16 April to submit their opinions on its new proposal.
"With Ofcom no longer guaranteeing EE [Everything Everywhere] spectrum in the upcoming award, it would have been unlikely to dismiss this request and could in some ways be seen as offering EE a carrot to not legally challenge Ofcom's current set of proposals for how the award should proceed," Ovum analyst Matthew Howett said in a statement. "The moment is coming when it's in the interests of all parties to let that award happen sooner rather than later."
While the country will not get access to high-speed mobile data services soon, some parts of the capital are in line for them. At the beginning of March, Broadband UK said it has already switched on TD-LTE 4G services that use the 3.5GHz spectrum for resale in some areas of Southwark, London. Operators could be offering the services to users in the locality by the end of May, the company said.
LTE at 1800MHz
The regulator's approval of Everything Everywhere's application fits with the EU's recently adopted common spectrum policy, which aims to make sure the same frequencies can be used for mobile broadband across the region.
"Ofcom's proposal to allow a variation of Everything Everywhere's 1800MHz spectrum licence is both consistent with the EC's liberalisation process and follows a request to Ofcom during the recent additional consultation on the award of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands," Howett noted.
"There appears to be growing interest in deploying LTE at 1800MHz, given the nice balance of characteristics the band has — good coverage possibilities whilst also providing for capacity — both of which are necessary ingredients of a good user experience," he added.
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