Last month I welcomed the fact that Ofcom had expedited the introduction of 4G in the UK by allowing Everything Everywhere to launch LTE services in advance of the UK’s forthcoming auction of 4G spectrum. Today, Everything Everywhere revealed its 4G plans in more detail. Under its new brand of “EE” it will offer LTE services in sixteen cities around the UK by the end of 2012, making 4G available to approximately 20 million consumers. The coverage will extend to 70% of the population during 2013 and 98% of the population by the end of 2014. The network will support a variety of smartphone and wireless broadband devices, including the Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE, Nokia Lumia 820 and Huawei E589 Mobile WiFi.
Unfortunately, there is still a cloud on the horizon. While Ofcom was of the view that the consumer benefits of an early 4G launch outweighed any distortion of competition, O2, Vodafone and Hutchison 3G are rather less relaxed about the situation. Everything Everywhere was given the go ahead to offer LTE services from today, 11 September 2012, while the other UK players will have to wait for the conclusion of the UK spectrum auction in early 2013. Amid threats of legal action and potential further delays to the auction process, the government has now been forced to step in to call a ceasefire, according to the Financial Times today.
Everything Everywhere has agreed to put its launch plans on hold and its UK competitors have agreed to refrain from legal action for one month, to allow time for constructive negotiations. As we have discussed many times before, the UK is already trailing in the deployment of 4G wireless services and clearly the government sees the prospect of yet more delays as unacceptable. It remains to be seen whether an agreement can be reached and how quickly Everything Everywhere can reinstate its plans. In the meantime, it will take the opportunity to prepare and test its network. Live testing and systems integration are already underway in London, Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham.