The future of 4G LTE in the UK is pretty murky; we know it’s coming but we just not know when. Statements released over the Easter Holiday weekend from the main UK networks are making things looking murkier; it looks like we’re no closer in terms of deciding who is getting what slice of the spectrum.
Part of the problem stems from spectrum that’s been set aside for Three, the smallest of the UK’s networks.
Ofcom has, in its last consultation, expressed a desire for four operators - O2, Orange and T-Mobile (aka Everything Everywhere), Vodafone and Three - to exist in the interests of promoting competition, earmarking a slice of spectrum for “a fourth national wholesaler, by which we mean a bidder other than Everything Everywhere, Telefonica [O2] or Vodafone.”
Though Three isn’t mentioned by name, Ofcom’s proposals state that should a bidder stump up the necessary cash and is the only bidder then that “one such bidder is “guaranteed to win it.”
O2’s parent company Telefonica is adamantly against the move. Speaking to the Financial Times [login required], a Telefonica spokesperson said that Ofcom’s proposal is “state subsidy for multinational corporations at the taxpayers’ expense.”
Vodafone also laid in to the proposals, saying that Ofcom should “stop trying to over-engineer the release of new spectrum to run the next generation of mobile internet services and simply run a fair and open auction as soon as possible.”
Ofcom’s 4G LTE UK auction - like spinning plates
Kip Meek, spokesperson for Everything Everywhere was less damning of the plans, but similarly urges the auction to happen quickly: “We are lagging behind the US and many other parts of Europe, whereas the UK used to be leading the world.”
We’ve asked Three for a statement on Ofcom’s consultation and are waiting to hear back.
In parts of Europe and the US, owners of the new iPad can enjoy faster download speeds and phones like the LG Spectrum, which comes with near-instant access to HD video content, can be bought off the peg.
As well as creating a competitive environment that keeps prices as low as possible for consumers, Ofcom needs to ensure that Freeview broadcasts aren’t interfered with by 4G while negotiating a separate consultation on Orange and T-Mobile launching 4G services on its existing 3G network.
O2 and Vodafone had criticised the move and Three has threatened legal action over the move. Ofcom has set the 8th of May as the time by when networks need to respond.
On top of all this, Ofcom’s proposing that 4G services will need to reach 98 per cent of the UK.