Education secretary Michael Gove has unveiled mobile network Everything Everywhere’s new 4G trial in Cumbria, despite ongoing tensions between operators and Ofcom over the company’s use of its existing spectrum.
The first roll-out of its kind in the north of England, the 4G trial will focus on the Threlkeld area, but will only be available to 50 users until the end of July to test the network’s performance capabilities.
Everything Everywhere hopes that if the trial is a success, it could lead to a full roll-out of its 4G network later this year, but the initiative has riled rival operators unhappy with the reuse of its 1800MHz spectrum for 4G.
An auction is due later this year to redistribute spectrum freed up following the digital TV switchover, providing mobile operators with new frequencies to offer 4G connections. However, Everything Everywhere (EE) wants to use its existing spectrum to speed up the roll-out of the technology.
This suggestion has received initial approval from Ofcom, but led to complaints from Vodafone, O2 and 3, claiming their rival would have an unfair advantage by getting its 4G network up and running first, and saying it would be anti-competitive.
Earlier this week, Everything Everywhere also launched its 4GBritain campaign, trying to push government into ramping up the roll-out of such technologies, but again this didn’t get a good reaction from the rest of the industry.
A 4G tour of London
Computer Weekly took a tour of 4G trial hotspots in London to test what the technology promises for mobile users looking for high-speed internet connections. Click here to see, in words and pictures, what we found out about 4G in action.
A spokesman for Vodafone told Computer Weekly the campaign "looks like a lobbying effort set up to give an unfair competitive advantage to what is already the largest player in the market."
“EE’s claim that today’s operators can also launch 4G services [subject to a willingness to invest and a variation to their licence] conveniently forgets that EE controls over 83% of all mobile spectrum in the frequency band that Ofcom is considering to vary,” he said.
Everything Everywhere could argue Vodafone itself owns 100% of the 900MHz spectrum, but the spokesman said there was no kit available to turn this into a 4G network and would take “years of development” compared to the 1800MHz frequency, which could be up and running tomorrow if it got the nod from Ofcom.
“Other operators are using their more limited spectrum holdings to serve current customers so they cannot clear it as quickly as EE,” he added. “Therefore, we believe the introduction of 4G should be linked to the availability of suitable amounts of cleared spectrum for other players.”
None of the operators have specific problems with the trial launch this week, as many are running their own trials, but a source that wished to remain anonymous questioned the timing of the roll-out as another way to pressure Ofcom into giving Everything Everywhere the thumbs up.
Despite this controversy, the trial was switched on by the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, and received full backing for bringing 4G to rural areas.
At the launch at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith, the cabinet minister said: “I’m really delighted to be switching on the first ever deployment of this cutting-edge technology in the north of England.
“Cumbria has unique needs due to its sparse population and long distances, which 4G LTE will help overcome. Cumbria’s schools and educational opportunities will be revolutionised by this technology.”
Gove also claimed the technology would help the area’s “record number of small businesses” and create more jobs.
The Department for Education has been as yet unable to comment on whether it was appropriate for a government minister to show such support while the debate is raging between the private sector and its regulator.