Ofcom backs UK leader's plan to deploy LTE in 1.8GHz
Regulator decides an early roll-out by Everything Everywhere, ahead of new spectrum auctions, will not distort competition
Published: 14 March, 2012
The UK's largest cellco, Everything Everywhere, is close to gaining the green light to roll out LTE services in refarmed 1.8GHz spectrum this year, pipping rivals to the post as they all wait for the delayed auctions of new LTE frequencies.
Regulator Ofcom indicated this week that it would support EE's plan, saying in a statement that it was "minded to allow this change of use". However, the operator still has to wait for the end of a consultation period, which will last until April 17.
In examining EE's proposals, Ofcom's chief concern was whether an early LTE roll-out by the Deutsche Telekom/France Telecom joint venture would distort competition, because no other operator would be able to offer rival 4G services for some time. Vodafone and O2 have 900MHz, rather than 1.8GHz, spectrum for 2G. This could be refarmed, but the ecosystem for LTE900 is currently less evolved than for 1.8GHz, which operators round the world see as a strong band, balancing range and capacity. The fourth player, 3UK, has only 3G spectrum.
"If we were to vary [Everything Everywhere's licence now, it would be likely to be the only entity capable of providing LTE/WiMAX services on a national basis for a period of time," Ofcom said in its announcement. However, it has concluded that "there is no material risk of a distortion of competition", and so proposes to make the change to EE's licence terms "as soon as possible", subject to the results of the consultation. The regulator thinks a rapid roll-out of LTE will benefit consumers with new services and potentially improved rural broadband coverage.
The lead cellco said last month that it planned to launch a trial LTE service in Bristol, in south west England, next month, and it has also been working on some tests in rural Cornwall. It will not actually have the first LTE service in the UK - that crown will be taken by UK Broadband, which will switch on a TD-LTE network in the London area in May, though this will be a wholesale system.