Communications regulator Ofcom has approved Everything Everywhere’s (EE) request to use its existing 1800MHz spectrum for next generation 4G services, which will allow it to roll out Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks several months before its competitors.
The spectrum is currently being used by the company, which is a joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile, for its 2G services.
It requested regulatory approval from Ofcom in February, which resulted in a consultation being launched, with a view to begin rolling out networks before the end of 2012.
Ofcom said in a statement: “Ofcom has today approved an application by the mobile phone operator EE to use its existing 1800 MHz spectrum to deliver 4G services.
“Following a consultation, Ofcom has concluded that varying EE’s 1800MHz licences now will deliver significant benefits to consumers, and that there is no material risk that those benefits will be outweighed by a distortion of competition. Delaying doing so would therefore be to the detriment of consumers.”
This will come as a blow to rival mobile operators O2 and Vodafone, who expressed dismay when Ofcom gave provisional approval for the plans some months ago. O2 said that the proposal was “contradictory to [Ofcom’s] objective of delivering a competitive market environment”, whilst Vodafone accused Ofcom of “taking leave of its senses”.
Ofcom does admit in its final decision that EE will “enjoy a competitive advantage during the period before other operators are able to launch their own LTE services”, but claimed that any such advantage is unlikely to last long enough to “distort competition to the detriment of consumers”.
This view has been taken due to the imminent 4G spectrum auction, which is scheduled to begin before the end of 2012, and will see mobile operators bid for 800Mhz and 22.6Ghz spectrum, which will then allow rivals to roll out next generation LTE networks.
An Everything Everywhere spokesperson said: "4G will drive investment, employment and innovation and we look forward to making it available later this year, delivering superfast mobile broadband to the UK."
As things stand now, Everything Everywhere has no spectrum reserved in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, due to its holding of 1800MHz spectrum, but the regulator has guaranteed a minimum amount of spectrum for a fourth national operator (other than Everything Everywhere, O2 and Vodafone) which, assuming there are no new market entrants, will be Three.
Three wants this reservation to be specifically in the 800MHz band, because sub-1GHz is deemed to be more suitable for delivery of 4G services. The operator is expected to make a public statement on the matter later today.