More and more of the analogue spectrum is being switched off ahead of Ofcom's 4G auction later this year. But Everything Everywhere, having previously decried the delayed roll-out of the faster data services, has stepped up its lobbying of the government, with the launch of their 4GBritain campaign today. And Vodafone isn't happy -- again.
A bit of back-story: Everything Everywhere announced back in March that it was going to dump a section of its 3G service running on the 1800MHz spectrum band, so it could rush out 4G this year, without being forced to wait for Ofcom's auction which will see the UK's networks sharpening their elbows to compete for the limited spectrum space ahead of the 2014-2015 commercial roll-out.
Ofcom backed its initiative at first, but following complaints from Vodafone and O2 that this would give Everything Everywhere a huge leg-up, the regulations body extended the response period to the proposal, meaning yet more delays for the service.
Vodafone stated that it "seriously doubts that consumers’ best interests will be served by giving one company a significant head start," and O2 voiced concern that "Ofcom’s other proposal to allow one operator to launch 4G early on its existing spectrum is contradictory to its objective of delivering a competitive market environment with four competing players. This could expose the process to further risk of delay."
With the launch of the 4GBritain campaign today (disclosure: Gizmodo UK, and our sister-publications T3 and TechRadar have signed the campaign, in the consumers' best interests of receiving 4G speeds sooner rather than later; along with Countryside Alliance, Huawei, Virgin Media and TheTrainline.com), the government is being lobbied to "do whatever is necessary to move forward," with equal support given to all networks rather than just Everything Everywhere's consumer brands T-Mobile and Orange.
Despite Everything Everywhere's altruistic aims, the other networks are pretty pissed that they were either approached too late to throw significant weight behind the campaign, which they're also arguing is only serving EE's best interests.
Vodafone was only approached to join the campaign three days ago, on Friday the 27th April. A Vodafone spokesperson supplied us with the following statement, directed at Everything Everywhere:
“Thank you for your offer to become involved with 4G Britain but as we have only just been informed of it we’ve not been given the detailed information needed to fully understand the intention behind it. Rest assured that Vodafone is very excited by the prospect of bringing 4G services to Britain not least because we have already launched this technology in several other markets."
"We have made it clear on many occasions that we believe a competitive market for 4G services will bring real benefits to consumers, businesses and the wider British economy. We’re already asking the Government and regulator to make sure that everyone can launch this technology as soon as possible. We strongly believe that a competitive market for 4G services – as exists in other European markets – is in the best interests of everyone.”
Everything Everywhere and its campaign (which is believed to have the support of Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross as well as the aforementioned media and commercial partners), may have incurred the wrath of rival networks, but Ofcom could potentially see a legal shitstorm heading its way, with both O2 and Vodafone threatening legal action if the regulations body favours the smaller network Three.
It seems that Ofcom's previous promise that it would save a slice of the spectrum pie in either the 800 or 2600MHz band for a smaller network -- believed to be Three -- still has the network worried, resulting in the threat of legal action against Ofcom if it gets frozen out of the auction later this year.
With Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere quibbling about who gets the rest of the spectrum allocation, it's looking very likely that the commercial launch of the 4G network in the UK could be delayed further, putting us even further behind our international friends who have been savouring the taste of 4G for years.
This is why Gizmodo UK and other partners are backing Everything Everywhere's campaign to get 4G rolled out sooner. While we'd prefer an equal playing field, all we want is 4G, and we want it now. It doesn't really matter which flavour it comes in (as long as it's fast, and affordable), and if it helps light a fire under Ofcom's posterior, then that's in the wider consumer body's best interests.
Updated: Vodafone contacted us with this additional statement:
“EE’s claim that today’s operators can also launch 4G services [subject to a willingness to invest and a variation to their licence] conveniently forgets that EE controls over 83% of all mobile spectrum in the frequency band that Ofcom is considering to vary. Other operators are using their more limited spectrum holdings to serve current customers so they cannot clear it as quickly as EE. Therefore, we believe the introduction of 4G should be linked to the availability of suitable amounts of cleared spectrum for other players.”
Updated 12:19pm: A Three spokesperson replied to our request for a statement on the launch of the 4GBritain campaign with the following:
"We want UK consumers to benefit from a competitive 4G market as soon as
We're keen to know the objective of EE's campaign so we can better
understand whether it seeks to restore competition to the UK mobile
market, or reduce it still further."
Updated 12:30pm: After requesting a statement from O2, a spokesperson responded with the following:
“Everything Everywhere has asked the Government for a change to its licence to run 4G services on their existing 2G network band, so they can launch up to a year early. Something the other operators are not in a position to do. It would seem, therefore, that this campaign is about the interests of one business, rather than for the benefit of all UK customers and to deliver on the promise of making Britain digital.
The mobile market in the UK offers customers value and quality because we have the most competitive landscape in Europe. We are supportive of any campaign that acts openly in the interests of all UK customers. Our preparations have involved the UK’s first London 4G trial network, which is used and exploited by our 4G superfans. Our efforts have demonstrated the very real need for, and benefit of, 4G in the UK.”
Image credit: Mobile mast from Shutterstock.