Everything Everywhere can use existing network to launch 4G services ahead of competitors, Ofcom says

Out-Law News | 22 Aug 2012 | 2:16 pm | 2 min. read

Mobile phone operator will be able to use its existing network to deliver next generation '4G' services to its customers, telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced.

Its decision means that the company, which currently operates the Orange and T-Mobile brands in the UK, will be able to offer faster mobile internet and related services to its customers from 11 September this year; before the release and auction of additional capacity which will enable its competitors to offer similar services.

Ofcom said in its decision that it was satisfied that allowing Everything Everywhere to offer 4G services on its existing 1,800MHz spectrum would "deliver significant benefits to consumers" and that there was "no material risk that those benefits will be outweighed by a distortion of competition".

However the move has already sparked fury from competitors. Rival Vodafone told the Guardian that it was "frankly shocked" by the regulator's decision.

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 more efficient use of radio spectrum, which makes them ideally suited for the high bandwidth data services including video streaming, social networking and GPS and mapping services used by smartphones and laptops.

Mobile phone companies were first awarded varying amounts of spectrum at 900MHz and 1,800MHz in the 1990s on the condition that this could only be used for 2G services, mainly voice calls and text messages. In 2011, Ofcom ruled that this could also be used for 3G services as part of its plans to "liberalise" spectrum use for the benefit of consumers. Its response to Everything Everywhere's application is its first decision on the use of the spectrum for 4G services.

Mobile data use is expected to reach 18 times its current levels by 2016, with the number of mobile connected devices globally reaching 10 billion in that period, according to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. In a speech on the national broadband strategy earlier this week, Hunt said that the Government's "working assumption" was that mobile devices would ultimately become the "preferred method of going online".

Additional spectrum is due to be released as part of an auction process in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands later this year, a combination of high and low frequencies which the regulator has claimed will enable operators to offer widespread mobile coverage at faster speeds. Ofcom said that this additional capacity would enable other operators to launch "competing services" from next year.

Everything Everywhere said that the decision was "great news for the UK". It has also confirmed that it plans to launch a "new brand" later this year, to sit alongside its existing Orange and T-Mobile brands.

"Consumers will soon be able to benefit from the much greater mobile speeds that 4G will deliver," the network said in a statement. "4G will drive investment, employment and innovation and we look forward to making it available later this year, delivering superfast mobile broadband to the UK."

“We would expect Everything Everywhere to develop a 4G brand that is distinctive to and that will easily be associated with the group," said intellectual property law expert Jo Alderson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "As it will be the first to market with 4G services  it will be particularly important for the group to protect and enforce the rights in the new brand to avoid it becoming the 'generic' name for 4G services in the UK, as happened to Sellotape for sticky tape.”

Vodafone said that the regulator had shown a "careless disregard" for the best interests of consumers, businesses and the wider economy through its refusal to "properly regard the competitive distortion created by allowing one operator to run services before the ground has been laid for a fully competitive 4G market".