Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Decision time for 4G

A number of sources report on a meeting being held today between Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards and the heads of the four major mobile operators. This follows the ending of a four week standstill period, agreed following EE's soft launch last month of its 4G service ahead of Ofcom's forthcoming 4G auction, based on its existing spectrum holdings (more here). This from ISP Review:
"According to the Sunday Times, Miller has drafted a proposal with Ofcom’s CEO, Ed Richards, that could bring forward the expected auction and or spectrum release date in order to satisfy any concerns about EE being given a head-start. This could reduce EE’s advantage but any auction would still take time to complete and thus it’s unclear how attractive such a solution would really be."
This from the BBC:
"Ahead of the meeting, Ofcom has told the government that the process could be accelerated to launch 4G networks in many places by May or June. It had been thought that it would take until the end of the year. The move may appease O2 and Vodafone which had expressed anger that rival network EE - formerly known as Everything Everywhere - had been given permission to use its existing 1,800Mhz spectrum to launch a 4G service earlier. O2 had threatened legal action to prevent EE gaining this advantage. A deal could pave the way for EE to announce its 4G launch date, which could be before the end of this month."
Bringing forward the date when rivals are able to offer 4G services is key here, which will be achieved chiefly by accelerating the process of clearing the spectrum that 4G services will use. This will minimise what other operators see as EE's first-mover advantage; issues around the iPhone 5 haven't helped matters either. More detail on BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones's blog:
"The January date of the auction itself can only be brought forward by a couple of weeks, but much more has been done, says Ofcom, about the process of clearing the spectrum for use by its new owners. With analogue television and air traffic control currently using some of the airwaves, it was expected to take until the end of 2013 for this job to be completed. Now, says Ofcom, the hope is that it can be completed in the late spring, so that new 4G services could start rolling out to many parts of the UK in May or June 2013. The other issue for O2 and Vodafone has been that EE might try to delay the process. A new body Mitco, financed by all the operators, has been created to ensure that 4G signals do not interfere with digital television. The fear was that it would be in EE's interest to make sure this work did not proceed too rapidly. But on this point too, Ofcom has been eager to reassure the government that Mitco will do its job as rapidly as possible. All in all, Ofcom believes that EE's period of being the only 4G game in town will shrink from as much as 18 months to as little as six months."
Fingers crossed for an amicable resolution today.

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