Vodafone has responded to Everything Everywhere’s 4G Britain campaign which launched this morning.
4G Britain, which launched with some heady figures, looks to be a cross-industry campaign for bringing 4G LTE to the UK as soon as possible. Aside from Everything Everywhere, other industry names such as Virgin Media and Huawei have nailed their colours to the 4G Britain mast.
But it looks like that the other UK networks either weren’t approached to join, or weren’t invited to the party in enough time. A Vodafone spokesperson got in contact with us and said that Everything Everywhere had invited the red network to join 4G Britain last Friday the 27th.
Vodafone forwarded us its response to Everything Everywhere’s invitation:
“Thank you for your offer to become involved with 4G Britain but as we have only just been informed of it we’ve not been given the detailed information needed to fully understand the intention behind it.
Rest assured that Vodafone is very excited by the prospect of bringing 4G services to Britain not least because we have already launched this technology in several other markets. We have made it clear on many occasions that we believe a competitive market for 4G services will bring real benefits to consumers, businesses and the wider British economy. We’re already asking the Government and regulator [Ofcom] to make sure that everyone can launch this technology as soon as possible. We strongly believe that a competitive market for 4G services – as exists in other European markets – is in the best interests of everyone.”
4G LTE in the UK: Coming some time, maybe
Everything Everywhere is proposing to use part of its existing 3G network, the 1800MHz portion of its spectrum, to provide 4G LTE services to subscribers.
We asked Vodafone why it wasn’t considering a similar move and we were told that: “EE’s claim that today’s operators can also launch 4G services [subject to a willingness to invest and a variation to their licence] conveniently forgets that EE controls over 83 per cent of all mobile spectrum in the frequency band that Ofcom is considering to vary. Other operators are using their more limited spectrum holdings to serve current customers so they cannot clear it as quickly as EE. Therefore, we believe the introduction of 4G should be linked to the availability of suitable amounts of cleared spectrum for other players.”
Ofcom is currently negotiating with O2, Everything Everywhere, Three and Vodafone to create an environment where the four main UK networks are handed the same amount of 4G spectrum.
Simultaneously, Ofcom is consulting with Everything Everywhere and the other networks to rule whether or not the plan to use existing 3G spectrum for 4G LTE services is anti competitive. Ofcom has already provisionally given this the green light, but has also given stakeholders until the 8th of May - a week Tuesday - to respond.
Update: Three and O2's responses
Update (1): A Three spokesman got back to us with the following statement:
“We want UK consumers to benefit from a competitive 4G market as soon as possible. We're keen to know the objective of EE's campaign so we can better understand whether it seeks to restore competition to the UK mobile market or reduce it still further.”
By ‘competitive 4G market’ we can infer that Three’s in favour of Ofcom affording it equal footing in the auction, a move that’s been described elsewhere by Vodafone as tantamount to ‘state aid’.
Three, by far the smallest of the UK’s main networks, looks vulnerable compared to the much bigger Everything Everywhere.
Three has also confirmed to us that it was approached by Everything Everywhere on Friday the 27th.
Update (2): An O2 spokesperson got back to us with the following:
“Everything Everywhere has asked the Government for a change to its licence to run 4G services on their existing 2G network band, so they can launch up to a year early. Something the other operators are not in a position to do. It would seem, therefore, that this campaign is about the interests of one business, rather than for the benefit of all UK customers and to deliver on the promise of making Britain digital.
The mobile market in the UK offers customers value and quality because we have the most competitive landscape in Europe. We are supportive of any campaign that acts openly in the interests of all UK customers. Our preparations have involved the UK’s first London 4G trial network, which is used and exploited by our 4G superfans. Our efforts have demonstrated the very real need for, and benefit of, 4G in the UK.”
O2 has recently begun live trials of 4G in central London with lucky participants enjoying speeds of around 20-50Mbps. O2 also confirmed to us that it was asked to join 4G Britain "hastily" on Friday evening.
Update: Everything Everywhere's response
Update (3): We’ve just taken a call from Kip Meek, adviser for Everything Everywhere who told us that 25 per cent of the 1800MHz was up for sale.
A condition of the Orange and T-Mobile merger was that this 25 per cent would need to be sold to another network (or networks) before Ofcom’s big 4G auction.
“We hope a sale is complete well in advance of the auction but due to complexities we’re not expecting it to be done by next week...”
‘Complexities’ here refers to satisfactory buyers needing to be approved by both Ofcom and the European Commission. If the 25 per cent is not sold before the auction, then it will factor in the auctioning process itself.
Referring to Vodafone’s statement, Meek also pointed out that Vodafone and O2 between them own 100 per cent of low-frequency spectrum, and that Everything Everywhere “has no sub-1GHz frequency spectrum. In Europe, regulators require networks to have a kind of sub-1GHz frequency available which is not the case in the UK.”
Sub-1GHz frequencies are generally better for receiving calls indoors than 2.1GHz signals normally used for 3G in the UK.
Meek also said that there’s “No technical constraints to running 4G on 900MHz. Vodafone and O2 would have to request that Ofcom let them do so, like [Everything Everywhere] is doing and work with equipment suppliers.
Update (4): O2 just got back to us with the following:
“There are no devices in the UK that will support 4G on 900MHz and won’t be for many years. There’s limited spectrum across Europe on that band, so manufacturers haven’t built the devices to support it.”
So while you can run 4G services over 900MHz, there seems little point. Everything Everywhere?