Ofcom has extended the deadline for a consultation on whether the UK's largest mobile operator, Everything Everywhere, should be allowed to use its existing spectrum in the 1800MHz band to deliver 4G services.
It follows recent protests from rival networks, including O2 and Vodafone, which said that the move was anti-competitive.
The telecommunications watchdog gave its provisional approval for the plans earlier this month, stating that the refarming of spectrum would “bring material benefits to consumers, including faster mobile broadband speeds and – depending on how Everything Everywhere uses the spectrum – potentially wider mobile broadband coverage in rural areas.”
It added that it had considered whether allowing Everything Everywhere to use this spectrum in this way would distort competition, and provisionally concluded that it would not.
Ofcom launched a four-week consultation, giving stakeholders the opportunity to submit their views on the proposed change to spectrum licensing. Responses were originally required by 17 April, but this deadline has now been extended until 8 May 2012.
“We have decided to extend this period following requests from stakeholders for more time to respond,” said Ofcom in a statement.
The move follows a storm of protest from rival networks including O2 and Vodafone. O2 said that Ofcom's proposal was “contradictory to its objective of delivering a competitive market environment,” and Vodafone has accused Ofcom of “taking leave of its senses”.
Meanwhile, mobile operator Three is reportedly preparing to upgrade its network to High Speed Packet Access 42.2, which can carry twice the traffic of its HSPA 21.1 network. The move could allow Three to take legal action against Ofcom and derail the already long-delayed 4G spectrum auction.
The company told The Guardian newspaper that it plans to “address competition and the principles set out by Ofcom in a four-player market for the benefit of consumers”.
Ofcom's original 4G auction proposals included a system of spectrum “caps” and “floors”, designed to protect Three, but also offering a minimum guarantee of spectrum to Everything Everywhere. However, the regulator was forced to scrap these plans after protests from Vodafone and O2 over what they termed “illegal state aid”.
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.