Ofcom holding LTE peace talks with UK operators

UK regulator Ofcom is holding peace talks with the country’s mobile operators today in a bid to diffuse the tension that surrounds the UK’s LTE licensing process. Vodafone and O2 reacted angrily to Ofcom’s decision in August to clear Everything Everywhere’s launch of LTE in re-farmed 1800MHz spectrum before the end of this year.

The BBC reported Tuesday morning that talks chaired by the UK Government’s newly appointed Culture Secretary Maria Miller are aimed at heading off legal challenges that the regulator fears may be in the offing.

It also suggested that Ofcom will offer to bring forward the LTE spectrum auction currently scheduled for the new year. In doing so Ofcom hopes to persuade the other UK operators that accelerating their own move to LTE makes more sense than delaying deployment with a drawn-out complaints process.

If the talks are successful, EE could name a specific date for the launch of UK LTE services at their conclusion.

Vodafone lambasted UK regulator Ofcom for its decision to give EE the go-ahead in August, dismissing Ofcom’s ruling as “bizarre”. In a published statement it added: “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.”

Vodafone also cited reports that Everything Everywhere may sell some of its spectrum to 3UK – with which it co-owns a 3G network – as evidence that Ofcom’s decision might unbalance the UK market yet further.

The response from O2 was less intense. “We are hugely disappointed with today’s announcement, which will mean the majority of consumers will be excluded from the first wave of digital services,” it said. “This decision undermines the competitive environment for 4G in the UK.”

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