MVNO tries to block EE's network consolidation
UK's largest cellco faces court action from Mundio, and possible one-year delay, over its plans to decommission cell sites
Published: 12 April, 2012
Adding to the legal complications vexing the UK's largest cellco, Everything Everywhere, is a lawsuit from MVNO Mundio. The firm, which operates UK services under the Vectone brand, wants to block EE's plan to consolidate its two networks.
These networks were previously the separate systems of T-Mobile and Orange, which merged to form the EE joint venture in 2010. The new entity plans to decommission a large number of sites to consolidate its two networks and contribute to a major efficiency drive from the merger - worth about £3.5bn in savings by 2014. It will also modernize the combined infrastructure to reduce energy consumption and prepare for LTE.
But Mundio claims that decommissioning T-Mobile sites could lower the quality of its own Vectone services and is seeking a court injunction to prevent such actions being taken. An interim injunction hearing will be heard in late April or early May. This could force EE to hold fire on turning off sites until March 2013. At this stage, a full trial would be held to ascertain liability for any disruption to services, and whether EE could be held to court-imposed "specific performance guarantees".
Mundio, which also runs Delight Mobile in the UK, claims the closing down of some cell sites, where the TMo and Orange coverage overlaps, has already caused technical problems, leading to some Vectone users receiving poor coverage or even none at all. Mundio's customers are supposed to be able to use the Orange network where integration has taken place, but the MVNO says that, since consolidation began in June 2011, handover to Orange sites has not worked as planned. It says it fears damage to its brand and customer base unless a solution is found, which would guarantee reliable levels of service to its users.
An EE spokesperson said: "EE launched an innovative network share initiative, which allows Orange and T-Mobile customers, and our MVNO customers, to access and roam across 2G and 3G. However, we cannot comment on the Mundio case as it is now a legal matter."
Last June, infrastructure firm Arqiva sued EE over the network sharing deal, a dispute which was settled in October, allowing EE to proceed with its integration plans.
EE is also facing hostility to its ambition to refarm some of its 1.8GHz GSM spectrum for 4G, as early as this autumn, which would give it a headstart on its rivals. They are waiting for spectrum auctions, scheduled for late this year, as their GSM networks are in 900MHz, a less mainstream band for 4G at this stage. However, EE also has to sell off about 25% of its 1.8GHz holdings as a condition of its merger, which could give Vodafone or O2 (or 3UK, which has no 2G spectrum to refarm) a chance to move quickly to 4G too.