Threat of 4G lawsuits is over: UK telecoms watchdog

The threat of further delays to the UK's 800MHz spectrum auction and the subsequent rollout of LTE services has passed, according to a letter from the head of telecoms regulator Ofcom.
Written by Sam Shead, Contributor

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards has written to Maria Miller, the UK's secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, to confirm that the UK's rollout of 4G is no longer in danger of being derailed by litigation.

Richards wrote to Miller on Tuesday to confirm that he had been in talks with all the interested parties and that the revised 4G rollout should not be further delayed and should be on track for late spring.

There have been long-running concerns and threats around legal challenges to the UK's 800MHz and 2.6GHz auction process since it was mooted in 2008. However, Richards said that the operators have now agreed not to delay it further.

"The [MitCo Shareholder] agreement contains important safeguards to preclude any individual 800MHz licensee from frustrating the work of MitCo and thereby delaying the deployment of 4G services in the 800MHz band," said Richards in the letter (PDF) to Miller. MitCo is a company set up by the operators to tackle interference to digital TV signals that may arise when 4G is rolled out.

The UK's 4G rollout has been delayed by the digital TV switchover and the persistent threat of litigation. The networks threatening to derail the process have held concerns that they could be disadvantaged by the auction process due to unequal allocation of spectrum in different bands.

This was a concern for them as different bands of spectrum have different properties and are better suited to different environments. Sub-1GHz spectrum, for example, is viewed as prime 4G territory as it propagates well and maintains speed increases.

EE (the joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile) will be the first company to offer 4G services, beginning at the start of November. However, these do not use the 800MHz band but instead use repurposed 2G spectrum in the 1800MHz band, which also required Ofcom's approval. Rival services will begin to come to market around May 2013.

In hands-on testing of EE's 4G network, ZDNet saw download speeds of between 12Mbps and 46Mbps. EE said it will offer users a solid downstream rate of around 12Mbps when the service is live.

ZDNet's Ben Woods contributed to this article.

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