04/10/2012

EE to offer LTE for end of October

EE (the new brand that was Everything Everywhere) is to launch their LTE service on their 1800MHz spectrum by end of October 2012 covering 10 cities on launch and a further 6 by the end of the year. EE have now started selling LTE capable phones including the iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy SIII LTE, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 820, HTC One XL and the Huawei Ascend P1 LTE. The launch was delayed by complaints by Telefonica/O2 who didn't like Ofcom's decision to allow EE to refarm their 1800MHz spectrum which would in reality give them 12 to 18 months advantage as the only UK network to be able to offer LTE services (Vodafone didn't like it much either, but were less vocal). After Government intervention where O2/Vodafone agreed not to take legal action against Ofcom and EE agreed to delay the LTE launch until the dispute was resolved. It seems that Ofcom and the Government have agreed to push forward (slightly) the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum auctions and move people out of the 800MHz spectrum more quickly so that these bands can be released for LTE use early in 2013. 800MHz is extremely valuable (it was the old analogue TV band) as it has extremely good propagation characteristics (i.e. it can penetrate buildings well) so is good for wide coverage in rural areas. The 2.6GHz spectrum has poor propagation characteristics though it suits urban areas where high data bandwidth is required. Both O2 and Vodafone are expected to bid for both bands. 3 has purchased the excess 1800MHz spectrum that EE had to sell off as part of the merger (as agreed with the European Competition Commission), however they don't actually get it until late in 2013 (which was the deadline for EE to get rid of it). Though it's likely that EE's launch will go ahead, there could still be problems in future as the operators could still mount legal battles. Another possibility is that a new entrant will try and land grab spectrum which could leave O2 and Vodafone out in the cold.