After years of delays to the introduction of fourth generation (4G) mobile services in the UK, yesterday Ofcom announced a decision that could see the launch of LTE services in the UK in the autumn of 2012. Ofcom has approved an application by Everything Everywhere to use its existing 1800MHz spectrum for the delivery of LTE services ahead of the UK’s forthcoming auction of new spectrum. In principle, Everything Everywhere has been cleared to offer LTE services from 11 September, although in practice this will depend on technical and commercial constraints.
The decision will not be without controversy. Earlier in the year we reported that O2 and Vodafone will work together to share infrastructure for the delivery of 4G services. However, they will be unable to offer these services until they have spectrum available, and according to the latest auction plans issued by Ofcom, it seems unlikely that the auction will be concluded before spring 2013. Hutchison 3G will be in a similar position. This gives Everything Everywhere a six month head start, including the valuable pre-Christmas period.
Ofcom’s view is that the benefits to consumers outweigh any distortion of the UK marketplace. Perhaps a more accurate way to look at the situation is that UK consumers are currently at a significant disadvantage compared with other markets, and there is a need to do something about it before the UK becomes a backwater. At the last count by the Global Suppliers Association (GSA), in July 2012, there were 89 LTE networks in commercial operation around the world, and it is expected that there will be 150 by the end of the year. Many of the latest premium wireless devices support LTE, including Apple’s new iPad, Nokia’s Lumia 920 and Samsung’s Galaxy SIII LTE, and it is widely expected that the forthcoming iPhone 5 will also support LTE. Earlier in the year the lack of 4G networks in the UK led to the embarrassing situation that Apple had to modify the marketing of its new iPad, to avoid giving customers the impression that UK customers would be able to take advantage of the device’s 4G capabilities.
Congratulations to Ofcom on taking the bold move to expedite the introduction of LTE and we look forward to investigating 4G from Everything Everywhere later this year.