UK’s largest cellco gets government help with 4G

Everything Everywhere announces 1.8GHz LTE plans under ‘EE’ brand, as government works to avert legal challenges, Cell:cm has learned.

Rethink Wireless reports the UK government played a key role in giving the country’s largest cellco, Everything Everywhere (EE), an open road to launch LTE services before year end. EE announced its plans on Tuesday, promising the first mainstream 4G offering under a new brand, ‘EE’, and using its refarmed 1.8GHz GSM spectrum.

After much opposition from rivals Vodafone and Telefonica O2, regulator Ofcom approved the refarming plan last month, allowing EE to launch LTE before its two main competitors have the chance to do the same – both are waiting to gain new 4G spectrum at the auction, but this will not take place until 2013. Vodafone and O2 have their GSM spectrum in 900MHz, which is less developed as a refarming band, and have accused the government of handing EE an unfair advantage.

This meant that the threat of legal challenges still hung over the plan to roll out LTE this year, but according to The Financial Times, the government stepped in to avert that outcome. Getting 4G services to market quickly is important to the administration’s universal broadband targets and to avoid falling too far behind other major European countries, like Germany, where LTE has been available for months already.

The newspapers says the government brokered a deal between the four cellcos (the fourth is 3UK, which is purchasing excess 1.8GHz spectrum which EE was forced to sell as part of its merger conditions, and is likely to use this for 4G next year). Apparently the CEOS of all four carriers, plus Ofcom executives, were called to a summit, which resulted in a ‘standstill agreement’. This ensures that no legal action will be undertaken for at least a month while negotiations continue between all parties, with EE agreeing – despite its launch announcement – not to go live within that timeframe.

Nevertheless, it has unveiled its new corporate identity and LTE brand, gaining considerable profile and media coverage as well as first mover advantage. It promised to start rolling out 4G “in the coming weeks” with a target of covering one-third of the UK population by year end. The ‘EE’ name will replace the clumsy ‘Everything Everywhere’ as the official brand, and will also be the logo for all LTE and fiber services. EE was formed from a merger of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK, and these separate brands will still be retained, but not for 4G. “EE is going to be our new superfast brand when it launches in a few weeks’ time,” said CEO Olaf Swantee. “EE will serve both consumers and business across the country… Orange and T-Mobile will continue to thrive.”

All three brands will have their own identities and different propositions, he claimed. Orange is increasingly targeted at higher end mobile customers and TMo at prepaid and lower end users. However, if they cannot offer 4G, there are doubts over their long term futures, despite the risk of losing a brand with such high recognition and international presence as Orange.

Although EE has not yet revealed precise launch dates or pricing for LTE, it has switched on live test networks in four cities this week – in London, Birmingham, Cardiff and Bristol. “By Christmas we will have 16 cities going superfast with 4G,” Swantee said, adding that London will be the first to be fully covered. Further roll-out, including some rural areas (important to government broadband objectives) will take place in 2013, when it aims to extend coverage to 70% of the population, rising to 98% by the end of 2014.

How does this affect your cell site or phone mast lease? Our advice is to be vigilant with any requests by your operator licensees and tenants to upgrade their sites or add further equipment. This may be contrary to their permitted rights with site owners. If you are in any doubt please contact Cell:cm Chartered Surveyors for more advice.

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