UK cellcos reach agreement on 4G, as Ofcom speeds up spectrum clearance

3 Oct 2012

Just a few weeks after the UK government stepped in to broker a ‘stand-still agreement’ ensuring no legal action would be undertaken for a month while negotiations continued between the country’s mobile operators regarding 4G deployments, a more permanent deal has now reportedly been reached. Following crunch talks held between the four cellcos – EE, O2 UK, Vodafone UK and Hutchison 3G UK – plus the new secretary of state for culture and media, Maria Miller, and regulator Ofcom, the latter has welcomed what it claimed was ‘the significant progress that has been made in moving forward the delivery of competitive 4G mobile services across the UK’.

The regulator has revealed that under the terms of the deal reached between itself and mobile operators, it will still launch its 4G auction as planned at the end of this year, but now Ofcom expects that competitive fourth-generation services will be operational in the first half of 2013, rather than by the end of that year. In order to achieve this aim Ofcom has revealed that it now expects the spectrum that it will offer in the auction – which is in both the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands – to be cleared and ready for use across much of the UK five months earlier than previously planned. The watchdog claims that the ability to bring forward the date at which the spectrum can be utilised is the result of progress that has been made in both the digital switchover and spectrum clearance programmes, which are now running ahead of schedule. It noted that discussions with TV broadcasters, Digital UK and transmission company Arqiva had allowed it to secure the earlier release of frequencies that were previously used for digital-terrestrial broadcasting.

Specifically, Ofcom has revealed that on the back ‘intensive technical planning work’, the clearance date for TV transmitters in Oxford and Waltham will be brought forward by five months to May 2013; the transmitters in question would have otherwise prevented deployment of 4G mobile services to approximately nine million people in cities including London, Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Similarly, the clearance date for transmitters which impact around one million people in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh will be brought forward by more than three months to April 2013.

Commenting on the development, Ofcom CEO Ed Richards noted: ‘The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services … Ofcom’s objective has always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and we remain focused on starting the auction by the end of the year.’ Mrs Miller, meanwhile, was cited as saying: ‘Delivering 4G quickly is a key part of our economic growth strategy. I am grateful to the mobile operators for their co-operation in bringing forward vital 4G services.’

United Kingdom, EE, Hutchison 3G UK (Three UK), O2 UK, Ofcom, Vodafone UK