Mobile operators slam Ofcom's 4G decision

Ofcom has drawn the ire of Vodafone and O2 following the allocation of existing broadband spectrum for 4G use.

The communications watchdog has given the nod for Everything Everywhere to push ahead with 4G services using a 1800 MHz licence, ahead of a planned auction of spectrum across 800 MHz to 2.6 GHz bands in December.

The announcement means that 4G services will be employed sooner than expected, possibly in the second half of the year.  

According to Ofcom, the decision has been made after weighing up the benefits to customers of early access, compared with the potentially unfair competitive advantage it gives to Everything Everywhere.  

The good news for customers – or customers of EE at least – is that Ofcom has decided to approve EE’s application to use its existing 4G spectrum.  This is despite acknowledging that EE will “enjoy a competitive advantage during the period before other operators are able to launch their own LTE services”, though Ofcom contends that any advantages will be temporary.

EE said in a statement that the announcement would give all its customers to access 4G speeds later this year, as the lengthy process of 4G roll out draws nearer to completion.

“Ofcom’s decision to make 4G available this year is great news for the UK,” EE said, adding that increased mobile speeds will “drive investment, employment and innovation” in the UK.

Not altogether surprisingly, the announcement has been met with thinly-veiled fury by rival operators, who we suggest are contemplating joining forces to become Nothing, Nowhere.

Vodafone hit out at the “bizarre” announcement, claiming it would skew the balance of the forthcoming auction.

“We are frankly shocked that Ofcom has reached this decision,” Vodafone said, claiming the ruling had shown a “careless disregard for the best interests of consumers, businesses and the wider economy” by distorting competition. 

“Ofcom’s timing is particularly bizarre given the reports that Everything Everywhere is currently in discussions to sell some of its spectrum to 3, which Ofcom has previously been at such pains to protect with its over-engineering of the 4G auction. This means the balance in the auction will fundamentally change.

An o2 spokesperson also hit out at the decision from Ofcom: “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. This decision undermines the competitive environment for 4G in the UK.” 

The announcement from Ofcom is the latest chapter in the bloodbath that has preceded the rollout of 4G services in the UK.

The UK is already lagging behind other countries such as the US in upgrading services from 3G to support the huge rise in popularity of connected mobile devices. 

However, spectrum allocation process has led to considerable arguments by operators, with the government reluctant to step in other than to attempt to quell various threats of legal action to Ofcom over auction proposals.

The government itself has also come under attack over spectrum allocation process, with the shadow cabinet slamming the “costly” delays.