ORANGE and T-Mobile customers could be the first to welcome the next generation of mobile network to the UK, despite Ofcom’s recent refusal to guarantee the service providers a section of the new 4G airwaves.
Everything Everywhere, the combined Orange and T-Mobile networks, has applied to communications regulator Ofcom for permission to upgrade its current airwaves, which operate on the 1800Mhz spectrum, to 4G capability.
This comes after Ofcom’s consultation report released last week laid out the procedure by which mobile networks could bid for new bandwidth in an auction to be held in late 2012. The 4G airwaves will be available on the 800Mhz spectrum when analogue television, which currently operates in this bandwidth, is switched off after this summer’s Olympic Games.
The report also revealed the removal of Ofcom’s previous guarantee to reserve some of the 800Mhz range for Everything Everywhere, which does not currently own any airwaves below 1800Mhz.
Airwaves under 1000MHz – called sub-1GHz spectrum – are desirable because they travel further and can penetrate thick buildings, requiring fewer masts and therefore costing less to operate.
Vodafone and O2 both own bandwidth in the 900Mhz range.
Everything Everywhere has responded to Ofcom’s recent announcement by applying for permission to liberalise its 1800MHz bandwidth, which would allow the network to provide 4G to its customers on the airwaves it already owns.
Ofcom has said it will respond to Everything Everywhere’s application by March.
Everything Everywhere’s request is likely to be granted. Ofcom is historically in favour of this kind of action, which maximises current systems to optimise benefits for consumers.
The move would also be in line with Ofcom’s previous decisions, which in past cases have allowed operators to launch better services on existing spectrums, such as with 3G mobile.
While a date for 4G in the UK is still uncertain – it is unlikely to be before 2014 on the 800MHz spectrum – Everything Everywhere could roll it out as soon as next year.
The network has just completed a 4G trial in Cornwall. An Everything Everywhere spokesperson said, “We found 4G was faster and far more consistent. Considering the amount of data required at the moment – on smartphones, tablets, etc – this is the next generation of network.”
4G-capable handsets are not yet available in the UK, although new models are expected this year.
Spokespersons for Vodafone and O2 said the networks are not planning to liberalise their current spectrums as the 900MHz range is full.