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Mobile operators merge their networks

Vodafone and Orange will combine their base stations, which should provide a welcome boost to 3G rollout
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor on

Two of the UK's mobile operators are to merge a large part of their 3G phone networks.

Vodafone and Orange will combine their radio access networks (RANs), which mainly comprise mobile base stations and transmission networks. This means it will be quicker for the two operators to extend their networks, and it will make it more economical for them to provide coverage in rural areas, because the cost of rollout will effectively be halved.

Currently, Orange provides 3G coverage to 85 percent of the population, while Vodafone covers just short of 80 percent.

Eventually, the two radio networks will be completely merged into one network. The operators' core networks will remain separate and they will manage their own customers' traffic, which they say means they can still provide differentiated services.

Build-out of the combined RAN is dependent on gaining the agreement of Ofcom, the industry regulator. Ofcom could offer no guidance on its decision at the time of writing, but it is thought that the regulator would not allow any deal which would inhibit the range of services available to customers.

Under their proposals, Vodafone and Orange could still build out their own exclusive parts of their network. This would include providing in-building coverage for businesses.

The proposals will initially cover 3G only. Sharing of the 2G network that most consumers use is not yet technically feasible, the operators said. Orange and Vodafone already share their RANs in Spain.

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