This week, Ofcom ruled that Everything Everywhere (EE) would be allowed to liberalise its 1800MHz spectrum and use it to provide 4G services across the UK.
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Rival operators, namely O2 and Vodafone, were up in arms about the decision, saying it gave the company – created from a merger of Orange and T-Mobile – an unfair competitive advantage.
However, Ofcom claimed it would do no such thing and, once the others had got their hands on spectrum suitable for 4G in the December auction, things would soon even themselves out.
Now, I agree with Ofcom that there is a need to get on the technology train that has been passing the UK by when it comes to 4G and the sooner the better. Enabling EE to use existing spectrum means 4G will hit our shores as early as September and we can finally start catching up with the rest of the world.
But I disagree with the idea that allowing EE to be the only operator on the market with 4G is good for the consumer.
The best thing in any market for the buyer is strong competition. It keeps prices down, quality high and the desire to treat the customer better than the next firm alive. If you let a market become too dominated by one player, these things begin to suffer and, in turn, the consumer suffers to.
It looks like EE will have the market to itself for up to a year, as even after the spectrum auction, it will take months for the other operators to test and build their networks. Also, even with the selling off of some of the 1800MHz band to 3, sources have told us EE won’t make that spectrum available to use until September next year, again holding back competition.
I am not surprised EE has pushed Ofcom to allow it to get 4 out there first and I am equally unsurprised that the firm will do everything in its power to remain the only one to have this solution. However, I am surprised that Ofcom has given it the go ahead.
Ofcom’s job is to ensure the interests of the consumer are paramount. A 4G marketplace with only one choice of provider will not benefit the consumer one bit, but instead leave them at the mercy of the giant in control.
I believe Ofcom should make EE clear the spectrum it has sold to 3 before it is allowed to launch 4G services. This way, 3 can come to market with its own offering and a fight will commence between the two to come up with the best offers.
This is the only way I can see to allow for the 1800MHz spectrum to be used straight away for 4G but still keeping the consumer’s interest at the heart of the matter.