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Vodafone UK CEO hits out at Ofcom’s 4G spectrum refarming

UK 4G rollout antennasVodafone is apparently less than pleased with the news from last week, that rivals Orange and T-Mobile as Everything Everywhere would be allowed to refarm spectrum (the 1800 MHz bands) allocated for 2G and 3G services for 4G.

Speaking to The Sunday Times (account required), Guy Laurence, CEO of Vodafone UK accused Ofcom of “all but agreeing to grant the largest player in the market a headstart on the next generation of mobile internet services,” with the move, saying that the regulator was “taking leave of its senses.”

Ofcom green-lighted the move last week, which will see 4G mobile broadband services able to reach more customers. In a nutshell, if you can get a 2G or 3G signal where you are right now on Orange or T-Mobile, you ought to be able to get 4G as well.

Last week, Ofcom announced that it had “considered whether allowing Everything Everywhere to use this spectrum in this way would distort competition, and provisionally concluded that it would not. And given the benefits this would bring to consumers, Ofcom is minded to allow this change of use.”

Last year, Chief Executive of Three David Dyson raised concerns about reallocation of old spectrum for 4G: “Refarming 2G spectrum without any of the reallocation seen across Europe created an incentive for those gifted spectrum to delay the auction. Ofcom and the government need a clear plan to ensure their plans are not undone by narrow self-interest.”

Given Three’s position as the smallest of the UK’s networks it stands to lose ground against the bigger networks. Prior to the merger of Orange and T-Mobile, Three was given access to 3,000 extra masts in order to allow it to compete more effectively.

We’ve asked O2 for a statement on Ofcom’s decision on spectrum refarming and are waiting to hear back.

Update: Vodafone’s just got back to us with a full statement from Guy Laurence CEO of Vodafone UK: 

“Ofcom appears to have taken leave of its senses. The regulator has always stressed that competition is in the best interests of consumers and the British economy yet here it is all but agreeing to grant the largest player in the market a headstart on the next generation of mobile internet services.

This decision leaves Everything Everywhere free to prevent anyone else from launching 4G services by bogging next year’s auction down in endless litigation. It has already threatened to do so once before. On Ofcom’s own admission, all the other players in the market require new spectrum in order to run LTE so Ofcom’s plan will deal a terrible blow to competition in the UK.

Vodafone UK shares the desire of both the regulator and the Government to see the next generation of mobile internet services rolled out quickly and placed within the reach of many more people in rural areas. But Everything Everywhere will be under no obligation to offer services to any rural areas. Ofcom’s plan risks further widening the digital divide in this country.

We know the Government wants to be a friend to business but surely that shouldn’t mean giving the biggest player in the UK market such an undeserved advantage.”

Image Credit: Flickr user genta_hgr