3UK says it could share UK's first LTE network
CEO of UK's smallest cellco suggests his firm could enter a RAN sharing deal with Everything Everywhere
Published: 11 May, 2012
The UK's largest cellco, Everything Everywhere, is fighting for permission to launch LTE services in refarmed 1.8GHz GSM spectrum this year, before auctions of new 4G spectrum are held. The plan is opposed by rivals Vodafone and O2, but the smallest operator, 3UK, could support EE - if it is allowed to catch a ride on the new network.
According to Telecoms.com, the firm's CEO David Dyson is proposing that 3UK could run its own services on the planned 4G network. This could extend an existing joint venture between EE and 3UK, called MBNL, which owns and runs the participants' 3G networks in 2.1GHz. The partners offer different services, under their own brands, on the same infrastructure, an increasingly common way for operators round the world to save costs and reduce time to market for new offerings.
Dyson suggests a similar arrangement could be struck for LTE, though it is hard to see how the legalities could be worked out in time for EE's preferred switch-on timeframe this fall. However, such a pact could strengthen EE's case for being allowed an early route to 4G, by addressing one of regulator Ofcom's key competitive concerns in planning LTE spectrum policies - how to ensure 3UK can remain viable, when it owns no 2G frequencies to refarm and has less financial resource to outbid its three larger rivals at auction, especially for the sub-1GHz spectrum which most carriers regard as their preferred options for first-stage 4G build-out.
"We've got an opportunity to potentially wholesale capacity from that LTE network, but we haven't come to any definitive financial terms," said Dyson. "There could be a way of getting access to [EE's] network, which the other networks - O2 and Vodafone - don't have." He argues that, without such a deal, EE's early roll-out scheme should be blocked because the market would become uncompetitive.
"The sooner this country gets into the next level of technology, the better it will be for consumers, provided there is competition," he said. "I think that's the bit that is missing from Everything Everywhere's campaign. Given that it's the biggest player in the market, with that proposition, I'm not sure it's in the best interest of consumers - it gives them a headstart."
However, EE does have to sell off about 25% of its 1.8GHz spectrum as a condition of its creation, as a merger of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK. The auction of 2.6GHz and 800MHz spectrum should take place late this year, though there are still some arguments to be ironed out over terms and conditions, especially fair access to sub-1GHz frequencies. Vodafone and O2 have their 2G networks in 900MHz rather than 1.8GHz, and EE argues that this gives them an advantage in the low frequency stakes, while the two operators retort that they should not be restricted in their ability to acquire 800MHz licences too, as this band has a broader ecosystem and better economics.