Telefonica calls for further consultation on early EE 4G launch


O2 parent attacks Ofcom’s proposal to allow Everything Everywhere to launch 4G service on refarmed 1800MHz spectrum and argues for longer consultation

O2 parent Telefonica has called for a further consultation on Ofcom’s decision to allow Everything Everywhere (EE) to launch a 4G service this year on 1800MHz spectrum currently used for 2G services.

The call, contained in Telefonica’s response to Ofcom’s consultation published by the regulator today (May 23), is based on the operator’s claim that rules lain down by the European Commission’s (EC) when it approved the merger of Orange and T-Mobile mean EE should not be able to launch a 4G service on the spectrum until September 2013.

When approving the merger, the EC laid down a “remedy” requiring EE to sell some of the 1800MHz spectrum to protect competition in the UK market, but that sale will not necessarily take place before EE can launch a 4G service.

Telefonica’s submission says:” If Ofcom and EE persist with their primary case, such that liberalisation has already been effectively approved by [the EC’s decision on the merger], then, in light of the terms and construction of the remedy, liberalisation cannot be lawfully authorised before 30th September 2013.

“We strongly urge Ofcom to reconsult fully and fairly on this matter in its entirety. Everything Everywhere accepts that it will not be ready to launch 4G until the end of this year, so there is plenty of time for Ofcom to consider the issue properly.”

Vodafone also used its response to the consultation to slam EE’s plans to launch 4G this year.

In its submission the operator said: “Ofcom’s current consultation proposes to give an unjustifiable head start to the largest player which could seriously undermine competition in the UK market for many years to come.

“Ofcom cannot proceed along the lines it proposes without clearly contravening its spectrum management duties and obligations. ”

However, EE has argued that O2 and Vodafone could launch their own LTE services this year by refarming 900MHz spectrum which has already been liberalised.

Commenting after the consultation documents were released, EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: “Being one of several potential companies able to launch 4G this year does not make us a ‘monopoly’.

“This is exactly the type of rhetoric that is designed solely to delay the launch of 4G in the UK.

“Opposing the launch of 4G in the UK smacks of corporate priorities gone wrong.

“Such action represents a desire to stifle investment in the UK, while exploiting as much money from existing infrastructure – all of which will ultimately undermine Britain’s drive to build a significant digital economy for the 21st century.”