Everything Everywhere hits out at 4G early opponents
Published May 23 2012, 09:41 BST | By Andrew Laughlin
Everything Everywhere, the joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile in the UK, has hit out at opposition from rival mobile firms to its plan to introduce 4G services early in Britain.
The UK's largest mobile operator by customer base, with around 27m subscribers across both groups, has proposed to media regulator Ofcom that it should be allowed to reuse part of its 1800MHz spectrum to offer 4G LTE as early as this year
, supporting super-fast mobile broadband speeds.
However, rivals such as Vodafone, O2 and Three have criticised the plans, saying Everything Everywhere is trying to dominate the new 4G market and delay a planned auction of spectrum for the broader launch of 4G in 2013.
At a press briefing yesterday in London, marking the completion of a major 3G network integration plan across T-Mobile and Orange (allowing customers of both firms to seamlessly use both 3G networks), Everything Everywhere said that it wants to 'fly the flag' for 4G in the UK.
The company has launched a £1.5 billion investment programme to completely refresh its 2G network, but also upgrade the infrastructure to support HSPA+, often referred to as '3.5G', and prepare for the launch of 4G.
David Salam, head of network strategy at Everything Everywhere, said that 4G is essential to meet future needs in the UK for advanced mobile services, such as rich messaging, gaming in the cloud, HD video streaming and reliable video calling services.
Everything Everywhere has already conducted trials of the service in Cornwall, finding that 4G can enable a mobile broadband download speed of 8MB (on devices and dongles), even under heavy usage and in thick walled buildings.
Discussing Vodafone and O2's opposition to his company's 4G plans, Salam said that the rival operators could have reused the 900Mhz spectrum they own to also offer 4G early, but they have instead opted to prioritise 3G coverage.
"4G is absolutely the future, it is where data is going to move forward. So it's absolutely essential that when we upgrade the network, we have 4G in mind," he said.
"Our competitors have had the opportunity to do what we are doing, but they have chosen not to. Vodafone and O2 could have reused their spectrum as we have proposed to do, but they instead chose to reinvest the spectrum in their 3G network. We believe that we are right to champion 4G and I can't see any reason why the government would not support what we have proposed."
He added: "Even if you read the Ofcom documentation that went out, it is hard to see any reason why they would not go ahead. We have already said that if we get our liberalisations, we would be more than supportive of the agreed timelines [for the 4G auction]."
Vodafone and O2 have said that there are no devices that can currently support the 900Mhz, meaning they cannot reuse the spectrum for 4G. But Everything Everywhere is not convinced by that argument.
The company says that if the other operators were serious about launching 4G as soon as possible, they would have worked with handset manufacturers to introduce usable 900Mhz devices in a suitable timeframe, such as within the next nine months.
"It was expected to come through, but nobody pushed it," said Tom Bennett, Everything Everywhere's head of network services and devices.
"It's a competitive argument [which the rival firms are raising against the plans], rather than about whether the UK should have 4G. [We view] it as a kick up the backside for the industry."
Everything Everywhere is quick to stress that the UK is "behind the game" on 4G as the technology is already "mature" in many parts of the world. For example, Verizon Wireless has been offering the service in the US for over two years and claims 10 to 12 million customers. This contrasts to the last decade when the UK was "probably ahead of the game" with the launch of 3G services.
However, the 4G introduction has been laboured in the UK by frequent legal disputes between the operators, and the staggered digital TV switchover, as the 800Mhz will be sold off in Ofcom's planned auction later in the year, alongside the 2600Mhz spectrum.
"It's easy to point the finger at the operators but we have had to deal with a challenging environment," said Salam.
"Also, this country seems to be making up its mind whether it wants this technology, maybe after Apple
stuck it on an iPad box, now people have decided that they want it! I certainly think it is time to get on with it."
Apple's latest iPad was announced in March as being ready for 4G connectivity, but the company was forced to change its UK marketing by regulators as the tablet can only actually support 4G in the US and Canada
This shows the difficulty with rolling out 4G as the frequencies used for the service differ widely, each requiring a new antenna to be fitted into a mobile device.
None of the 4G devices available now or in the near future in Britain will work if Everything Everywhere manages to launch 4G early, as the frequencies are not attuned.
Everything Everywhere is working with device manufacturers on creating devices with antennas to support its 4G frequency. But also, the 4G frequencies released in Ofcom's planned auction will require a whole new set of compatible devices to be created.
"There is quite a lot of work with the device manufacturers, the reality is that 4G spectrum frequencies across the world are completely different," said Bennett.
"We are working with device manufacturers to create handsets that will support these frequencies, but you probably won't see that through in terms of smartphones until later the year."
Should it get the go-ahead from Ofcom, Everything Everywhere hopes to start offering 4G on a "small scale" towards the end of 2012, but Bennett is quick to stress that it's important to set the right customer expectations before going ahead.
"I think it's about making sure that everything is in place, and then it's about setting the right expectations," he said.
"We can say that 4G is going to be all singing and all dancing, but if you haven't got a 4G device then it could be disappointing. It's about making sure we have got everything else in line before we really push it."
He added: "There has been examples in the past, such as with fixed broadband or whatever, where services have set expectations that they haven't delivered.
"That is why we have done the short-term trials, because we get an insight into how to create a service that consumers value and get what they are expecting."
Everything Everywhere declined to discuss how much more expensive 4G would be compared to 2G or 3G.