Ofcom paves the way to Everything Everywhere UK 4G roll-out

Ofcom is preparing to loosen restrictions on radio spectrum licensing that could lead to an early 4G rol-out later this year.

Ofcom is preparing to loosen restrictions on radio spectrum licensing, a move that could lead to Everything Everywhere providing the UK’s first roll-out of 4G high-speed broadband this year.

The telecoms regulator has released a consultation paper in which it proposes to lift restrictions on use of the 1800MHz spectrum, to support high-speed mobile networking.

Everything Everywhere (EE), the largest mobile operator in the UK, runs the Orange and T-Mobile services, which use 80% of the 1800MHz radio frequency. The watchdog said that opening up this spectrum will help to speed up introduction of 4G.

“Our view is that it is unlikely that the 900MHz band will be used for LTE [4G] until after the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands become available for use. Our understanding is also that the 2.1GHz band is likely to be used for 3G services for some time yet, and that LTE equipment is unlikely to be available for that band for at least a few years," said Ofcom in the consultation paper.

The 1800MHz band was previously limited to 2G voice calls, but today Ofcom said, “The mobile phone operator Everything Everywhere has submitted an application to Ofcom to use its existing spectrum to deliver 4G services. Allowing Everything Everywhere to reuse its spectrum in this way is likely to bring material benefits to consumers, including faster mobile broadband speeds and – depending on how Everything Everywhere uses the spectrum – potentially wider mobile broadband coverage in rural areas.”

Later this year Ofcom will be auctioning the 800MHz and 2600MHz bands. The lower, 800MHz band is able to travel further distances and through buildings, making it cheaper to deploy with better coverage, compared to the 2600MHz band, which requires more mobile base stations. However, the 800MHz band offers less network capacity, so it cannot support as much data usage as higher bands.

Ovum analyst Matthew Howett said the 1800MHz band offers a good balance between capacity of the network and cost to deploy.

“The proposal to grant EE’s request is both a win for it and potentially consumers in terms of getting early access to 4G services – by as much as 15 months earlier than its competitors could launch services. There appears to be growing interest in deploying LTE at 1800MHz given the nice balance of characteristics the band has – good coverage possibilities while also providing for capacity – both of which are necessary ingredients of a good user experience," he said. 

"With Ofcom no longer guaranteeing EE spectrum in the upcoming award, it would have been unlikely to dismiss this request and could in some ways be seen as offering EE a carrot to not legally challenge Ofcom’s current set of proposals for how the award should proceed."

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