O2 and Vodafone announce network sharing plans

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Vodafone and O2 join forces to share 18,500 network masts, which will boost 3G and 2G indoor coverage to 98 per cent by 2015, and speed up the deployment of 4G services 

O2 and Vodafone have announced a network sharing joint venture that sees the two operators creating one national grid running each other’s independent spectrum.

The duo said it will create two competing networks that will be able to offer 2G and 3G indoor coverage for around 98 per cent of the UK population by 2015.

A new joint venture company, Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure, will consolidate both O2 and Vodafone’s existing basic network infrastructure, including towers and masts, which will be transferred to the JV or decommissioned over time.

Both companies will have access to a single grid of 18,500 masts representing an increase in sites of more than 40 per cent for each operator.The JV will also be responsible for the building of new sites needed to extend coverage into rural and remote areas.

The two companies expect there will be a more than 10 per cent overall reduction in the total number of sites, around 2,000 sites, in the UK, as a result. A number of masts will also be built in areas where there is currently no O2 or Vodafone signal.

O2 and Vodafone already share 4,000 sites through its JV Cornerstone, set up in 2009.

Each operator will have responsibility for the design, management and maintenance of the radio equipment as well as local transmission in one half of the country. O2 will look after these elements in the east, including Northern Ireland and most of Scotland, and Vodafone in the west, including Wales.

They will retain complete control over their own wireless spectrum, intelligent core networks and customer data. They will also continue to actively compete with each other on all products and services.

O2 and Vodafone said the JV will ensure the capability of the next generation of 4G mobile services are rolled out as effeciently as possible, subject to the outcome of Ofcom’s auction of the wireless spectrum required for 4G services.

It will lay the foundations for two competing 4G networks to deliver a 4G service faster than could be achieved independently and up to two years before the anticipated regulatory requirement of 98 per cent population coverage by 2017, they said.

O2 UK CEO Ronan Dunne said: “Exceptional customer demand for the mobile internet has challenged the mobile industry to consider innovative solutions to building a nationwide network that will be fit for our customers in the future and support the products and services that will truly make Britain digital.

“This partnership is about working smarter as an industry, so that we can focus on what really matters to our customers – delivering a superfast network up to two years faster than Ofcom envisages and to as many people as possible. One physical grid, running independent networks, will mean greater efficiency, fewer site builds, broader coverage and, crucially, investment in innovation and better competition for the customer.”

Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence said: “This partnership will close the digital divide for millions of people across the country and power the next phase of the smartphone revolution. It will create two stronger players who will compete with each other and with other operators to bring the benefits of mobile internet services to consumers and businesses across the country.

“We have learned a lot from our existing network collaboration but now it is time for it to evolve. This partnership will improve the service that customers receive today and give Britain the 4G networks that it will need tomorrow.”

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