4G brawl: O2, Vodafone square up to watchdog over 'fundamental errors'

O2, Vodafone and other industry parties have lodged complaints with Ofcom over Everything Everwhere's application to refarm spectrum for 4G use before the end of the year
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

O2 parent Telefonica, the British Entertainment Industry Radio Group, Vodafone and a handful of individuals have filed objections with Ofcom over Everything Everywhere's proposals to refarm its 1800MHz spectrum for 4G services.

Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, published responses to its consultation on the proposals on Wednesday, following the conclusion of the consultation period on 8 May.

"The consultation responses raise a number of detailed issues that Ofcom must now consider carefully," an Ofcom spokesman said in a statement. "We will publish a statement on the proposed variation as early as possible."

One of the parties who expressed doubts over the proposals to Ofcom was the British Entertainment Industry Radio Group (BEIRG), which is concerned that allowing Everything Everywhere to use the 1800MHz spectrum could cause interference with its members' activities in the 1785MHz-1800MHz band.

"This band is becoming increasingly important for wireless microphone operators. With increasing pressure on the future of existing UHF spectrum that is available to PMSE [the Programme Making and Special Events sector], the loss of 790MHz–862MHz, continued uncertainty over the long term availability of the 550MHz–606MHz band, and the potential interference in interleaved spectrum from white space devices, it is important that the 1785MHz–1800MHz band is not rendered unusable by LTE/WiMax services in neighbouring bands," BEIRG said in its response.

Rival network operators also lodged complaints with Ofcom. In its response, Telefonica questioned the underlying assumptions behind Ofcom's reasoning for the proposed spectrum liberalisation, saying the regulator "is wrong on all counts".

In addition, Telefonica said Ofcom "fails procedurally" to conduct a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of allowing Everything Everywhere to start offering the 4G services up to 15 months before rivals.

Vodafone aired similar complaints about the plan, saying that Ofcom had made "fundamental errors" in assessing the issues raised by the proposal, primarily relating to 'first mover' advantages that Everything Everywhere could derive from a decision in its favour.

"Ofcom's current consultation proposes to give an unjustifiable head start to the largest player which could seriously undermine competition in the UK market for many years to come," Vodafone said.

However, Everything Everywhere said in its 60-page response to the consultation process that it should be allowed to proceed with its plans, and that any first mover advantage would be mitigated by its agreement to give up two 15MHz blocks of 1800MHz spectrum, in line with its European Commission commitments.

The company also argued that even if it got a competitive advantage from bringing services to market first, it should be allowed to proceed nonetheless for the sake of consumers who, it said, should be "able to enjoy the benefits of LTE as soon as possible".

A number of individuals also responded to the consultation, with opinion split over the proposals.

One individual respondent said that no 4G licences should be granted before 3G reception had been significantly improved.

"I write to oppose the granting of a 4G licence to anybody, not just Everything Everywhere, until the whole of the UK has a fixed, reliable 3G network," the anonymous respondent wrote. "People in remote areas, and islands, of the UK can still not get 3G — why should they be further marginalised by people in the bigger cities getting even better service than they currently do, which already outstrips the service available to us."

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