Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three have greeted the opening up of 2G and 3G mobile frequencies for 4G usage with quiet approval.
UK communications regulator Ofcom said it will allow the UK’s mobile phone operators to re-use frequencies around 900MHz, 1.8GHz and 2.1GHz when they need to retire 2G and 3G services.
O2 and Vodafone, which operate 3G services in the 900MHz band, will also be able to double their power from around 1,500W to more than 3,000W, boosting both range and signal stability.
Read Recombu Digital’s guide to 4G in the UKThe news was greeted with quiet approval by the UK’s four mobile network operators, none of whom wished to give an on-the-record quote.
Ofcom said: “This decision delivers a long standing objective to liberalise all mobile licences so as to remove the regulatory barriers to deployment of the latest available mobile technology.
“Even though operators may not seek to deploy 4G services in the newly liberalised bands in the immediate future, the interests of consumers will be served by the fact that these bands have been liberalised now, ahead of a market led transition to their use for 4G technology in future.”
The muted response from Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three isn’t surprising, since none of the operators are likely to retire their 2G or 3G networks until they’re ready to use 4G for an all-in-one solution, which is several years off.
Three doesn’t have a 2G network to retire, and will employ 4G as an evolution of its 3G network, extending the reach and coverage to meet consumer demands.
EE and Three both have frequencies at 1.8GHz which have were liberalised in 2012 to allow the launch of EE’s 4G service, much to the annoyance of Vodafone and O2.
Vodafone is concentrating its 4G efforts into the recently-auctioned 800MHz band, where it bought the largest chunk of spectrum so that it can have high quality indoor coverage – the lower frequencies are very good at penetrating buildings.
There’s also very little 4G equipment available that can use 900MHz or 2.6GHz, although the 1.8GHz slot is popular for 4G across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas.
Multi-frequency antennas also make devices more expensive, so operators may farm their spectrum towards different uses such as fixed broadband links.
Ofcom said it will also look into increasing the maximum power of 3G signals in the 800MHz and 1.8GHz bands later this year.
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