Ofcom secures deal to speed up 4G rollout

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O2, Vodafone and Three could launch 4G services by mid 2013 after Ofcom secures early spectrum release

O2, Vodafone and Three could all launch 4G services in the UK by mid-2013 after Ofcom  secured the release of spectrum previously used for digital-terrestrial broadcasting to be cleared for 4G five months early.

It means all UK operators could be offering 4G services by June-July.

The decision will heavily reduce the early lead EE,  who were given the green light to launch 4G services on its existing 1800 spectrum last month, on its rivals.

EE is expected to launch its 4G network at the end of this month.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: “The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services.

“Ofcom’s objective has always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and we remain focused on starting the auction by the end of the year.”

A spokesperson for Three commented: “We see this as a positive step for UK consumers by removing the monopoly on LTE (4G) that would have benefitted just one operator.”

The Ofcom statement read:

‘Ofcom plans to start the auction process to release spectrum at the end of the year, with bidding starting early in 2013.

Ofcom’s consistent objective has been to ensure that the 4G spectrum – at 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz – is made available as soon as possible. Following discussions with TV broadcasters, Digital UK and the transmission company Arqiva, Ofcom has secured the earlier release of frequencies that were previously used for digital-terrestrial broadcasting.

This spectrum will now be cleared and ready for 4G mobile services across much of the UK five months earlier than previously planned, from spring 2013. This has only become possible in the past few months as a result of the significant progress that has been made to date with the digital switchover and the clearance programme itself, which has been running ahead of schedule.

This means that more UK consumers will be able to benefit from a competitive market for super-fast mobile broadband sooner than previously possible.

For example, following intensive technical planning work, the clearance date for TV transmitters in Oxford and Waltham – which would otherwise prevent deployment of 4G mobile services to around 9 million people in cities including London, Birmingham, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield – will be brought forward by five months to May 2013.

Similarly, the clearance date for transmitters which impact around 1 million people in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh will be brought forward by more than three months to April 2013.

This follows similar steps led by Ofcom during the past year to accelerate the spectrum clearance programme.’

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