The story of high-speed 4G mobile networks in the UK has been a long and drawn out one, a situation that given that the system has yet to even launch, rarely bodes well for the future. However, UK network Everything Everywhere has today taken the nation by surprise by announcing that bar any unforeseen problems, it’ll hit the “on” switch for 4G LTE by the end of the year.
As North America’s 4G LTE network continues to grow and improve, and more manufacturers produce compatible devices, it’s becoming increasingly important for the UK and Europe to keep pace. Except that up until today, UK regulator Ofcom had been estimating the 4G rollout wouldn’t begin until 2013 at the very earliest, and that 2015 would be more likely.
This is an age away when looked at in terms of the current speed of advancement in mobile technology, and was due in part to a delayed spectrum auction (now expected to take place at the end of this year) which would provide carriers with the bandwidth necessary to operate a 4G network, plus the need for as much bandwidth as possible for the impending 2012 London Olympics.
So how has Everything Everywhere managed to circumvent this problem? Well, according to its press release on the subject, it hasn’t. The exact phrasing of the statement is: “Subject to regulatory approval by the spring, Everything Everywhere is ready to roll out 4G this year.”
Everything Everywhere is the umbrella brand-name for the T-Mobile and Orange networks in the UK, and as such it owns the largest slice of the 1800Mhz band in the country, however it has been forced by Ofcom to sell parts of it to other networks – a move which must be completed before the main 4G spectrum auction could take place at the end of 2012.
While it’s not clear whether the sale has been completed yet – it was expected to take place this month – this announcement looks like Everything Everywhere is pushing back at Ofcom, not-so-subtly telling them it has upheld its end of the bargain, and now it wants something in return.
It appears the network wants to use its existing 800Mhz and 1800Mhz bands for 4G LTE, rather than waiting for the auction to get started, and has already begun one trial in Cornwall last year and will follow up with another in Bristol this April. It can’t just go ahead with a nationwide rollout though, it needs Ofcom’s approval.
Before reluctantly agreeing to the sale of its superfluous (in the eyes of Ofcom, at least) spectrum, Everything Everywhere stated its intention was to use all the £400 million/$619 million it expected to earn to improve the country’s network, and it looks like it wants to stay true to its word.
The question is, will Ofcom fold under the pressure? If it does, then surely it’ll have to give Vodafone and O2 the same treatment? It’ll also be interesting to see whether these two competitors side with Everything Everywhere, or stick with Ofcom and elect to wait for the impending spectrum auction.
Spring starts at the end of next month, and it could prove a crucial season for 4G LTE in the UK.