UK to have LTE services before end of 2012

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Everything Everywhere gets initial go-ahead for 1800MHz LTE

UK regulator Ofcom has said it will allow Everything Everywhere to reuse its 1800MHz spectrum for LTE services this year, following an application made earlier this year by the operator to extend its existing license for the spectrum to LTE.

Everything Everywhere plans to have commercial services operating in the 1800MHz frequency before the end of this year, although service will be limited to laptop/notebook dongles and USB devices.

An Ofcom statement said:

"Allowing Everything Everywhere to reuse its spectrum in this way is likely to bring material benefits to consumers, including faster mobile broadband speeds and – depending on how Everything Everywhere uses the spectrum – potentially wider mobile broadband coverage in rural areas.

Ofcom has considered whether allowing Everything Everywhere to use this spectrum in this way would distort competition, and provisionally concluded that it would not. And given the benefits this would bring to consumers, Ofcom is minded to allow this change of use.

Interested parties have four weeks in which to submit their views on this proposed change."

Last month, Everything Everywhere confirmed to Mobile Europe that it will continue pushing for preferential access to sub-1GHz spectrum as it still regards that spectrum as the best for widespread broadband coverage. It may also be that device availability will be better in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, although many operators in Europe have stated that they like the look of 1800MHz for LTE, given the balance it provides between coverage and capacity.

The decision to allow EE to refarm 1800MHz spectrum was taken in line with EC requirements, under which the UK is required to consider applications for liberalised 4G use of the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz spectrum.

Everything Everywhere has previously said that Ofcom was required to "liberalise" spectrum usage before the end of 2012, and it was confident enough that it would receive approval to start the process of getting ready for LTE prior to Ofcom's final decision.

O2 already uses some of its 900MHz spectrum for 3G services - and some will wonder if it and Vodafone will consider refarming their own 900MHz spectrum for LTE, in advance of acquiring licenses at 800MHZ and 2.6GHz.

EE has a great deal of 1800MHz spectrum, however, even though it must sell off 2x15MHz of its 1800MHz block as a condition of regulatory approval for the Orange-T-Mobile merger that formed the company. The size of its spectrum holdings at 1800MHz gives it an advantage in terms of refarming for LTE services.