Everything Everywhere (EE), joint venture of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK has been given the go-ahead by UK regulator Ofcom to repurpose its 1800 MHz 2G spectrum for LTE services. This means that EE will be able to launch 4G LTE services before the end of 2012, as they have been preparing their network for a quick upgrade in anticipation of this decision.
EEis not the first operator to launch 4G services. Earlier in 2012, UK Broadband launched a pilot 4G service in a few boroughs of London with plans to launch in city wide LTE in Swindon later this year.
O2 and Vodafone in the UK have already conveyed their disappointment and dismay at Ofcom’s decision saying that it creates an uneven playing field. With EE most likely launching LTE in 2012, the earliest that any of its competitors can expect to launch 4G is mid 2013, if the 4G spectrum auctions indeed go ahead in 2013. While EE owns bulk of the 1800 MHz spectrum band, Vodafone and O2 have 900 MHz spectrum which they could potentially refarm for LTE. However, neither operators have really pushed for 900 MHz refarming, but seem more keen on gaining fresh spectrum in 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands.
The third operator, Three UK isn’t as opposed to the the Ofcom announcement as it is part of the MBNL consortium with EE, through which the three operators share base station sites across the country. EE is also meant to relinquish some of its 1800 MHz spectrum holding possibly to Three UK, in line with its merger obligations which it has to meet before end 2012. This means Three UK might also be able to launch a limited 4G network earlier than Vodafone and O2.
Ofcom feels that UK consumers will benefit with this early launch of 4G, and while it does give EE a headstart, in the longer run the competitive factors should iron out. While EE does benefit, the fact that the device ecosystem for LTE 2600 is much wider than LTE 1800, it seems that O2 and Vodafone are crying hoarse for no reason. LTE 800 MHz is also a popular band choice with an equally large device ecosystem with network costs that will be lower than any of the other bands as lower spectrum denotes wider coverage and fewer cells.
Overall, Ofcom’s decision has set the 4G ball rolling in the UK, and for better or worse its high time it did!