Following on from the discussions at last month’s Westminster e-Forum, Everything Everywhere has continued to argue its case to be allowed to roll out 4G on its existing 1800MHz spectrum. The company held an event for analysts at its offices in Paddington, where CEO Olaf Swantee, senior public policy advisor Kip Meek and head of network strategy David Salam went over the benefits that will accrue to the UK as a whole if they’re allowed to proceed.
Some of it was rhetoric, of course – if Everything Everywhere launches 4G significantly before its rivals, the benefits to the UK at large will be a little more secondary than the operator is suggesting – but it’s hard to disagree that somebody needs to be doing something. Ofcom has dithered over this spectrum auction for a long time, with the result that the UK is set to be one of the last major markets to introduce LTE – if not the very last. O2 and Vodafone, who hold all of the 900MHz spectrum available, were unhappy with the original proposal to guarantee some sub-1GHz spectrum for all operators, and now that this proposal has been scrapped, Everything Everywhere and Three, who have none, are talking about “haves and have-nots”.
And yet, in this case, Everything Everywhere is clearly on the side of the “haves”. The company currently holds 2 x 60MHz in the 1800MHz band, compared to the 2 x 5.8MHz that O2 and Vodafone each hold. As a condition of the merger between T-Mobile UK and Orange UK, Everything Everywhere will have to sell one-quarter of this spectrum, most likely to one of its rivals. Even after the sale, the company would hold the largest block of 4G-ready spectrum in the market.
It has also invested heavily in improving its network, with around 20,000 3G sites across the country, of which 12,000 support HSPA+. Additionally, it is rolling out retunable 2G/4G base stations, to prepare for the day when it can offer 4G services. And to get everybody on-side, Olaf Swantee said at the presentation that 4G would create jobs and spur investment in the UK, along with providing broadband to rural areas.
All of this will leave the likes of O2 and Vodafone behind – especially given that smartphone and tablet adoption is creating ever more strain on the data networks, and demand for bandwidth-intensive activities is only increasing. So it’s only natural that they try to delay Everything Everywhere as long as they can. But they’re also delaying their own launch of LTE.
There’s a saying, attributed to German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, that politics is the art of the possible. In this case, the operators have become so caught up in deriving as much advantage for themselves as they can, and Ofcom has become so caught up in trying to please all parties, that they’re at risk of not accomplishing anything. There’s a very real possibility that this decision will now be taken out of Ofcom’s hands and decided in the courts, which will take even longer and leave all parties equally dissatisfied. But at this point, barring radical action from the regulator, this may be the only way forward.