UK mobile network gets 4G approval: Rollout this year?

Summary:The joint venture of Orange and T-Mobile received 4G network approval from the UK's broadband regulator. Could a 4G rollout finally hit the British streets this year?

After months of dilly-dallying around, difficult negotiations, and what came close to being a bar punch-up for which members of Parliament had to step in to break it up, the UK is finally stepping closer to receiving 4G mobile broadband.

Everything Everywhere, the parent company of Orange UK and T-Mobile UK, and therefore the country's largest carrier, sought permission from Britain's broadband regulator Ofcom to rollout 4G services.

It has not been an easy ride up until this point, however. Many of the networks are still stuck in head-butting mode and have put consumer needs on the back-burner in favour of their own wants.

Ofcom wanted to sell off spare bits of the spectrum to the mobile networks. But much of the disagreement came when mobile networks O2 and Vodafone piped up in anger, claiming that Ofcom's "state aid" plan of giving smaller network Three a discounted slice of the 4G spectrum was unfair, and threatened to take the matter to court.

Members of a Parliamentary committee effectively told the networks to "stop fighting" over the spectrum auction. Because of this, Ofcom revised down its plan to have 4G mobile broadband from 2013 to 2015, leaving the London Olympics this year in the 3G lurch.

But Everything Everywhere has a plan. It's going to use the existing spectrum it has, and turn it into a 4G network.

"Everything Everywhere has submitted an application to Ofcom to use its existing spectrum to deliver 4G services," said Ofcom. The regulator ruled that it would not be anti-competitive. "Ofcom is minded to allow this change of use", as it would "likely to bring material benefits to consumers".

A 4G rollout "could" happen this year, but the chances of it happening are slim. It's entirely possible, but there are many factors at play that could slow down the rollout. If it were to bring 4G speeds to the UK, it would not be to the masses.

As seen with previous 4G trials, most have been in semi-rural areas in order to test the services without having thousands urban-dwelling Londoners complaining all in one go that the network speeds are slow. Beyond anything else, seeing as rural broadband in the UK barely exists, it make more sense for developing 4G networks to take to the hills --- literally. Not only would it expand its current 4G network trial, but the move will also give priority to those who have current speeds no higher than prehistoric dial-up.

The problem is --- and forgive me if I find it hilarious --- the UK doesn't have 4G compatible mobile phones yet. It's believed that only Sweden has 4G LTE smartphones in Europe, leaving most soon-to-be 4G customers stuck with using mobile broadband dongles and the like to access the next-generation network.

Image source: CNET/Sprint.

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Topics: Mobility, Broadband, Hardware, Networking, Wi-Fi

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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