Ofcom has today approved an application by the mobile phone operator Everything Everywhere (EE) to use its existing 1800 MHz spectrum to deliver 4G services.1
Following a consultation, 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.2 Delaying doing so would therefore be to the detriment of consumers.
The decision takes account of the forthcoming release of additional spectrum in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands, in an auction process set to begin later this year, which will enable other operators to launch competing 4G services from next year.3
In parallel with this decision, Ofcom has now issued varied licences to EE which authorise LTE services from 11 September 2012. This means that EE can launch LTE services using its 1800 MHz spectrum at any point from that date, although the precise timing of any launch is a commercial decision for Everything Everywhere.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The term 4G is generally used to refer to mobile broadband services delivered using the next generation of mobile broadband technologies including Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX. LTE technical standards make efficient use of radio spectrum, and so are ideally suited for high bandwidth data services such as video streaming, email, GPS and mapping services and social networking sites.
In the 1990s, mobile phone companies were awarded varying amounts of spectrum at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz with a condition that the spectrum could only be used for 2G services - mainly voice calls and text messages.
In 2011, Ofcom ruled that 2G spectrum could be used for 3G, as part of plans to liberalise spectrum use to the benefit of consumers. Today, Ofcom has permitted 4G use as well - to meet the growing demand from internet-connected devices such as smartphones and laptops.
2. The UK is required to make the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum available for 4G use in light of a Decision of the European Commission (2011/251/EU) which amends a prior European Commission Decision (2009/766/EC).
The UK is also required, under European Commission Decision 243/2012/EU, subject to market demand, to complete an authorisation process to liberalise the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum bands for LTE and WiMAX use by the end of this year. Should Ofcom receive variation requests for the remaining licences in those bands, demonstrating market demand for such variations, Ofcom will consult on variation of those licences as required by the relevant legislation.
3. Ofcom's July statement on how the auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum will proceed can be found here.