Ofcom gives green light to EE 4G from next month


Vodafone and Three criticise decision to let Everything Everywhere roll out LTE services on existing 1,800MHz spectrum, but operator says move will help consumers and the economy

Orange and T-Mobile customers could get access to 4G LTE services this year after Ofcom this morning gave Everything Everywhere (EE) the green light to launch LTE on its existing 1800MHz spectrum.

Ofcom said issuing EE with licences for 1800 MHz LTE from September 11 would not pose a threat to competition, even though it gives EE the chance to get a significant head-start on its competitors.

The rest of the UK’s operators are not expected to be able to launch services until six months after the 4G spectrum auction scheduled to start at the end of this year.

The regulator said: “Ofcom has concluded that varying EE’s 1800 MHz licences now will deliver significant benefits to consumers, and that there is no material risk that those benefits will be outweighed by a distortion of competition.

“Delaying doing so would therefore be to the detriment of consumers.”

However, Vodafone said it was “shocked” at the decision and claimed it gave EE and Three an “incentive” to block the 4G auction scheduled to begin at the end of this year.

“The regulator has shown a careless disregard for the best interests of consumers, businesses and the wider economy through its refusal to properly regard the competitive distortion created by allowing one operator to run services before the ground has been laid for a fully competitive 4G market,” said a spokesperson.

“Ofcom’s timing is particularly bizarre given the reports that Everything Everywhere is currently in discussions to sell some of its spectrum to 3, which Ofcom has previously been at such pains to protect with its over-engineering of the 4G auction. This means the balance in the auction will fundamentally change.

“The regulator has spent several years refusing to carry out a fair and open auction. Now its decision today has granted the two most vociferous complainants during that entire process a massive incentive to further delay it.”

“We wholeheartedly support the Secretary of State’s call for the 4G auction to occur in December and look to the regulator to finally do its job and produce a competitive market for 4G services as soon as possible.

“We firmly believe that a fully competitive market for 4G services is in the best interests of Britain.

“We have already committed ourselves to reach 98% of the UK population with indoor 4G services by 2015 – two years before Ofcom’s own target – but we need to acquire spectrum in the auction to achieve this. Ironically, all that stands in our way right now is the regulator.”

Three also criticised the decision, saying: “Liberalisation of 2G spectrum to date has distorted the competitive landscape in the UK, which ultimately harms consumers.

“Further liberalisation without addressing competition issues could make that distortion worse.”

However, EE described the announcement as “extremely positive” news and said it would make LTE services available this year.

A spokesperson said: “Ofcom’s decision to make 4G available this year is great news for the UK. Consumers will soon be able to benefit from the much greater mobile speeds that 4G will deliver.

“4G will drive investment, employment and innovation and we look forward to making it available later this year, delivering super-fast mobile broadband to the UK.”

In March, Ofcom granted EE provisional permission to refarm part of its 1800MHz spectrum, currently avaialble only for 2G and 3G services, to launch LTE, but gave operators four weeks to raise objections.

However, outcry from the operator’s rivals forced the regulator to hold a consultation on the prosals, delaying the decision until now.