New Culture secretary Maria Miller scored a major victory for consumers this week, brokering a deal with mobile operators and industry watchdog Ofcom that will facilitate the rollout of 4G services six months earlier than anticipated. The next-level format will enable users to download data up to seven times quicker than is possible with 3G, providing speedy transmission of files and the ability to stream live television without buffering.
In the run up to the deal, simmering tensions and threats of legal action had broken out between the major operators, after Ofcom authorised Everything Everywhere – the merged group housing Orange and T-Mobile – to utilise its current network capacity for launching a high-speed 4G service later this year. The firm’s network is larger than those of its rivals.
Ofcom’s move spurred heads of other operators to contact their lawyers in efforts to prevent the firm’s new EE consumer brand from gaining an unfair advantage in the mobile marketplace. However, with Miller’s input, the government and Ofcom have now agreed upon an earlier allocation of the 4G frequency spectrum, which is becoming available as television services switch from analogue to digital. An auction for capacity planned for January next year will still go ahead, but usability will be brought forward from the end of 2013 to sometime during the summer. That new timetable will significantly reduce EE’s head start.
The original delay between spectrum availability and operation had attracted severe criticism from within the industry that the UK would end up lagging behind Uzbekistan – but the clear run now means that customers of all networks will soon have access to the superfast standard. Then the competition for users and profit will really begin: while EE still has a slight time advantage, latecomers will have an opportunity to undercut its prices.
EE chief executive Olaf Swantee said: “This is a significant milestone for the United Kingdom, and for the people and businesses of our country who will now be able to enjoy the huge advantages of superfast 4G technology for the first time. We are very proud to be pioneering, innovating and leading our industry in launching 4G for our nation.”