Vodafone and O2 get lined up for 4G as sharing deal gets go-ahead

The UK authorities have given the operators permission to share towers and masts, as well as the telecoms kit attached, paving the way for 98 percent coverage for 2G, 3G and 4G services within three years.

Customers of Vodafone and O2 should get much better coverage, after the two operators got permission to share their core infrastructure.

Telefónica UK (which trades as O2) and Vodafone UK said on Friday that they had been granted permission by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Ofcom to consolidate their cell sites and manage them through a joint venture called CTI Ltd. The move should allow both operators to roll out 4G services more quickly, once the government's spectrum auction has taken place.

"One physical grid, running independent networks, will mean broader coverage and, crucially, investment in innovation and better competition for the customer," Telefónica UK chief Ronan Dunne said in a statement.

Vodafone chief Guy Lawrence also reiterated that the two operators are promising 98 percent coverage in the UK for all three cellular technologies — 2G, 3G and 4G — by 2015.

More sharing

The deal covers towers and masts, but also the equipment that gets installed at those sites. That kit will broadcast on the two networks separately, though, unlike what happens with Everything Everywhere and Three's MBNL joint venture .

That means O2 and Vodafone customers will not be able to roam between the two networks, but they should still benefit from having more coverage than before, in terms of both reach and indoor penetration.

CTI will manage the sites themselves, finding new places to put masts and rationalising those that are duplicated as a result of the sharing agreement.

Meanwhile, the two operators will split the management of the equipment between themselves on a geographical basis. Vodafone will manage the kit in Wales and the west of England, while O2 will handle the kit in the east of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.