While we're over the bloody moon about Everything Everywhere finally getting the go-ahead from Ofcom to roll out a 4G network from September 11th this year, the rest of the networks aren’t quite as jolly. Apart from Three that is, which looks like it maybe, possibly, potentially, could roll out 4G early too.
We've already heard Vodafone's utter outrage over Ofcom's "bizarre" decision -- it's "frankly shocked that Ofcom has reached this decision" something we can't argue with, because we're pretty amazed (and delighted) too. Still, we're not quite on the same page as Vodafone when it comes to its slating of the ruling:
"The regulator has 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."
That might be bluster, but Vodafone perhaps has a point when it says, "the regulator has spent several years refusing to carry out a fair and open auction." The UK has been properly dragging its heels, mainly thanks to the digital switch over, which took forever, and Ofcom's mulling over of auction rules and the legality of it all. In fact you could see this as a strange turn of events given Ofcom's been so carful to try and secure some sort of section of the spectrum for the smaller, weaker networks like Three (but more on that later).
Like Vodafone, O2's pretty "disappointed" over the decision too, although it's slightly less angry-sounding:
"We are hugely disappointed with today's announcement, which will mean the majority of customers will be excluded from the first wave of digital services. This decision undermines the competitive environment for 4G in the UK."
We were lucky enough to take part in O2's 4G trial here in London, so we know O2's already geared up for rolling out this stuff pronto. It must be pretty galling, then, to have the competitive rug theoretically pulled out from under you. Still, O2's potentially been working on the backhaul for its 4G networks for a while now, so it should be well prepared come early 2013.
Capacity is going to be the key thing going forward for the battling 4G networks. Lightning-fast speeds between your phone and the mast are great and all, but if the mast only has a 10Mbit connection to the internet, that's all you're going to get, shared between however many of you are trying to stream Downton Abbey at that very moment.
The last of the networks, Three, on the other hand, although its trying to look vaguely irritated by Ofcom's decision, it's no where near as irate as Vodafone or disappointed as O2 seem:
“Liberalization of 2G spectrum to date has distorted the competitive landscape in the UK, which ultimately harms consumers. Further liberalization without addressing competition issues could make that distortion worse.”
Three's got something of a potential ace up its sleeve now that EE has paved the 4G way, what with the network rumoured to be sinking some capital into buying a chunk of now 4G-capable spectrum off Everything Everywhere. While Three couldn't comment on spectrum purchases, even if the network does snap up some of the 1800MHz band, EE won't have to actually clear the airwaves until sometime in October, so it won't quite give Three the massive 4G edge that Everything Everywhere's getting.
Still, we could see a situation where both Three and EE beat the rest of the networks to the punch in their 4G rollouts, which would be awesome from the consumer's perspective. Two competing networks pumping out 4G early could be really great for Britain, especially if Three manages to hold firm on its truly unlimited data contracts.
Somehow I think unlimited data is going to go the way of the dodo once LTE actually turns up, however, especially considering just how much data you'll actually be able to suck down when its clipping along at fibre speeds. If you're not excited by the roll out of 4G in the UK by now, though, you damn well should be. Even if you don't intend on forking out your hard earned cash and jumping on the blazing LTE bandwagon at launch, it'll mean 3G networks will have less subscribers trying to pull down data. That should release capacity and improve your current connection without you having to spend a penny, if that's the way you roll. Faster speeds and better networks can only be a good thing, now we just need some awesome devices to take advantage of it -- here's looking at you Apple, Samsung, HTC and Google.
Image credit: Mobile masts from Shutterstock