Everything Everywhere, the UK mobile joint venture for Orange and T-Mobile, is launching a big "grass roots" campaign to get UK LTE deployment moving... especially its own. Ian Scales reports.
In fact, only its own. As things stand EE (as we prefer to call it on the basis that Everything Everywhere is certainly the worst branding exercise since the 2012 Olympics logo - my 13 year old kid could do a better..... etc etc) is the only UK operator currently capable of launching LTE services as it's the only operator with contiguous spectrum in the right band. Its competitors are stuck with their 'old' 2G spectrum down in the 800 zone which is divided into smaller increments. They're looking to win new spectrum from an upcoming auction to get into the LTE business.
The only other option is that they buy some 1800 spectrum off EE, which has plenty and is supposed to divest a big chunk as a condition of the merger of the two former operators.
As a result there is a deadlock with probable litigation from either set of parties once the regulator decides to announce some sort of policy to sort it out.
In the mean time, EE has decided to up the pressure with this campaign to speed the arrival of (its) LTE.
It claims the launch of LTE could add 0.5 per cent (or £75 billion) to the UK economy by the end of this decade and could therefore stimulate (or safeguard) up to 125,000 new jobs (unemployment, as in much of the rest of Europe, is a political hot button at the moment).
Which is all very well and good, but clearly EE is conflating two things here. LTE and mobile broadband generally (an indisputably good thing and clearly a long-term economic booster) and EE LTE (also good, but only set to be a small part of the overall broadband story in the UK).
If EE gets an early go-ahead to launch LTE (as its campaign suggests it should) it will put its nose well in front of its rivals and they're not keen on EE getting a competitive boost, especially as it is supposed to divest itself of that spectrum.
According to Matthew Howett, Ovum Regulation practice leader, "while the earliest route to 4G would be through Everything Everywhere’s 1800MHz spectrum and Ofcom is right to be considering this option... consumers will only see the true benefit if there is competition between operators... and ...this can only be fully achieved through the joint award of spectrum at 800MHz and 2.6GHz planned for the end of this year.
Howett says Ofcom now has the unenviable task of finding a way through to avoid one set of parties or the other from heading off to the courts.
"It could consider imposing a wholesale access obligation on EE to allow other interested operators the opportunity to also launch services," comments Howett.
"This could be removed once the award of new spectrum eventually takes place. Alternatively competition could come from whoever acquires the 1800MHz spectrum that EE must divest. At the moment the other operators do not hold sufficient quantities of 1800MHz spectrum to launch 4G in any compelling way. This would require Ofcom preventing EE deploying 4G at 1800MHz until it has completed the sale of this spectrum.
"Clearly neither of these two options are ideal, which makes the importance of proceeding with the joint award of new spectrum at 800MHz and 2.6GHz later this year that more important."
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