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O2 UK calls for "fairer" spectrum policy, relaxed planning laws


The Chief Executive of O2 UK has called for the country's Prime Minister to intervene in a "imbalanced" spectrum landscape and relax planning laws.

Mark Evans was speaking following Theresa May's announcement on the UK's new industrial strategy yesterday (23 January).

He said that mobile must be put at the forefront of any attempt to reinvent the country's industrial policy, but that requires changes to how infrastructure is built across the UK.

He said: "Mobile operators like O2 are willing to make the massive investment needed to keep Britain connected. But we can’t do it alone. We need an industrial strategy that puts mobile at the heart of post-Brexit Britain, ensuring UK companies and consumers alike are the best connected in Western world.

"First and foremost, this means helping mobile operators roll out 5G, a technology that will support a global digital services market worth more than the UK economy by 2020."

To achieve this he said May needs to redress the imbalance of spectrum between operators. EE has 45 percent of spectrum currently available, Vodafone 28 percent, O2 15 percent and Three 12 percent.

UK regulator Ofcom will auction off 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum this year, although EE has been banned from bidding on the former.

Evans, who was appointed O2 UK's CEO last year, said: "In South Korea the distribution of spectrum – the invisible frequencies that operators use to transmit mobile data – is evenly distributed between companies, which encourages competition.

"But in Britain the market is heavily skewed, with BT sitting on 45 percent of usable spectrum, limiting the ability of companies like O2 to expand and grow our network."

While Evans' stance was first revealed in an interview last autumn, this is his first major intervention on the UK spectrum row since. O2 is not a backer of the Make the Air Fair campaign, which is led by rival Three and calls for a 30 percent cap on spectrum holding.

Last year, Three's attempts to buy O2 were knocked back by the European Commission.

[Read more: UK operators pour cold water on MPs' demands for telecoms reform]

Evans also said the UK government should enable a "supportive" planning regime that will foster the quick building of cost effective mobile infrastructure. He added: "This is absolutely vital because in London alone, mobile operators will need to install around half-a-million new transmitters to deliver 5G. In reality, this means improving planning laws, the Electronic Communications Code and opening up BT’s cable network to allow operators to invest in the digital infrastructure of tomorrow right now."

His final recommendation was for the government to encourage other infrastructure providers to help them deliver a better signal.