4GBritain campaign calls on government to expedite 4G roll out

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4GBritain campaign calls on government to expedite 4G roll out

Warwick Ashford

Mobile network Everything Everywhere (EE) has set up a campaign to speed up the provision of 4G mobile data services in the UK.

The network operator, a merger between T-Mobile and Orange, is urging UK businesses and consumer groups to join its 4GBritain campaign.

The campaign calls on the government "to do whatever is necessary" to enable the roll out of 4G networks to go ahead to enable the UK to catch up the 34 countries that already have 4G services, including Germany, Scandinavia and the US.

4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a standard for wireless communication of high-speed data based on the GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies that increases the capacity and speed using new modulation techniques.

According to the campaign's website, 4G will support improved mobile services and ensure that many of the latest mobile devices work in the UK; it will drive economic growth and create jobs, and unlock billions of pounds of private investment into the economy

But the sale of the 4G spectrum has been delayed by operators fighting over how to distribute the airwaves and experts predict that the telecoms regulator Ofcom may have to go to court before the auction goes ahead, according to the BBC.

The campaign website also claims 4G will help improve broadband access in rural areas to further close the Digital Divide.

Sarah Lee, head of policy for The Countryside Alliance said a 4G network will provide a huge opportunity for all the mobile companies to provide better mobile and broadband coverage at competitive prices in rural areas.

"The Countryside Alliance believes it is important there is competitive roll out of the 4G network if the current problems of high prices and poor service in rural areas are to be overcome," she said.

The Countryside Alliance continues to make the case to the government, said Lee, that if rural economies are to grow, then this needs to be matched by a proper commitment and delivery of mobile and broadband communications in the countryside sooner rather than later.

"The importance of bringing 4G to Britain can’t be underestimated. With a commitment to have the best super-fast broadband in Europe by 2015, mobile is going to play an important role," said Matthew Howett, of analyst group Ovum.

However, he said some experts are "a bit sceptical" about EE's campaign, because the firm has its own 4G agenda.

The network operator is hoping to be the first to roll out 4G services this year ahead of the auction, and has asked Ofcom if it can reuse its 1800MHz spectrum for this purpose.

Ofcom is considering the proposal, but rival Vodafone has threatened legal action, saying it was not in consumers' interests to give one operator a head start.

Legal action has caused several delays to the spectrum auction process, with T-Mobile being one of the first to take legal action in 2008 over proposals at the time to use the 2.6GHz spectrum for 4G.

Ofcom now plans to auction off two spectrum bands, 800MHz - freed up by the digital TV switchover - and the 2.6GHz frequency.

However, O2 and Vodafone have threatened to take Ofcom to court if the auction goes ahead in its present form. They are unhappy that Ofcom has set aside a portion of the spectrum for the 3 network.

Ofcom maintains that this approach is necessary to ensure that 3 remains in the market to ensure healthy competition.

In response to the 4GBritain campaign, the regulator has issued a call for end to the delay-causing legal action. "While we recognise the need for companies to protect the interests of their shareholders, our role is to promote the interests of consumers," Ofcom said.

According to Howett, the earliest route to 4G would be through EE's 1800MHz spectrum. "Ofcom is right to be considering this option, however consumers will only see the true benefit if there is competition between operators in the provision of services," he said.

Howett believes this can be achieved only through the joint award of spectrum at 800MHz and 2.6GHz planned for the end of this year. But, he said, unless there are some material changes to the current proposals, such as the removal of minimum spectrum portfolios, litigation seems almost inevitable.

"With no obvious way out of the deadlock any legal challenge could send everyone back to the drawing broad. Only a direction from the UK government could keep the auction on track and this is something that it must now wake up to," he said.

If pressure mounts on Ofcom to allow EE to use its existing 1800MHz now for 4G then it has to consider how to safeguard competition, said Howett, which could include imposing a wholesale access obligation on EE to allow other interested operators the opportunity to also launch services. This could be removed once the award of new spectrum eventually takes place.

However this would not be quick or easy, he said, which makes the importance of proceeding with the joint award of new spectrum at 800MHz and 2.6GHz later this year that more important.


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