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Vodafone and O2 reveal network sharing plan, with one eye on 4G

The networks are to begin sharing their masts and towers, but customers shouldn't expect to be able to roam between the two
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

Mobile operators O2 and Vodafone are to share their core network infrastructure.

O2 headquarters

O2 is to begin sharing its masts and towers with Vodafone — but customers shouldn't expect to be able to roam between the two. Image credit: O2

Under an agreement announced on Thursday, Vodafone and O2 parent Telefonica UK will create a joint venture that will take over the running of the pair's basic network infrastructure, including their towers and over 18,500 masts.

Once the deal goes through, expected later this year, it should mean improved reception for customers of both operators, according to Vodafone and O2. By sharing infrastructure, the operators claim it will provide indoor 2G and 3G coverage for 98 percent of the UK population by 2015.

However, unlike a similar network sharing agreement between Orange and T-Mobile, customers won't be able to roam between the Vodafone and O2 networks. Vodafone and O2 will keep their customers separate; Telefonica traffic will be carried on Telefonica's network and Vodafone traffic on Vodafone.

"Our partnership is not about using each other's networks for customers to roam. This proposal is about consolidating existing network infrastructure and local transmission to create one national grid reaching more people quicker than is possible independently," a spokeswoman for O2 told ZDNet UK.

"Both companies will run their independent spectrum on this grid. Customers will remain a customer of their chosen operator, and will only have access to that network signal and services. Vodafone customers will continue to connect to the Vodafone network and O2 customers will continue to connect to the O2 network," she added.

O2 and Vodafone are making the move with an eye on the UK's mooted 4G rollout: the pair claim the network-sharing deal will allow them to more quickly meet Ofcom's requirement that 4G deployments must cover 98 percent of the population by 2017.

Infrastructure sharing isn't new for the two companies: Vodafone and O2 began sharing mobile masts back in 2009 as a way of cutting costs.

More savings could result from the new deal: the two companies expect it will allow them to trim the amount of sites they own by around 10 percent in the UK.

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