Everything Everywhere bringing 4G to UK in September

Will the mobile phone conglomerate gain a valuable Apple boost?

Everything Everywhere, the mobile phone consortium made up of T-Mobile and Orange, has won approval from Ofcom to roll out an LTE service (more commonly, though perhaps incorrectly), known as "4G") on unused areas of its spectrum a year ahead of the official auction for LTE licenses.

The group is making the most of the fact that it, unlike its major UK competitors, has spare capacity on the 1800mhz portion of the spectrum, and will be launching the high-speed service on 11 September. Vodafone, O2 and Three have all expressed anger at Ofcom's move, with Vodafone giving a strident comment to The Verge's Vlad Savov:

We are frankly shocked that Ofcom has reached this decision. 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.

The line is an odd one. Allowing the only regulator with the technical capacity to improve their service to do so seems unlikely to be a net negative for the public at large. Far worse would be Ofcom artificially holding back the state of British technology just for perceived "fairness".

That's not to say Vodafone don't have anything to be angry about; the fact is that it could have moved just as fast as Everything Everywhere if the glacial pace of the digital switchover weren't holding up the spectrum it needs.

But why quite so mad? Well, Savov points out one very interesting point when it comes to the timing of Everything Everywhere's roll-out. They'll turn on the service on 11 September; on 12 September, Apple is expected to announce a new iPhone with LTE technology.

Savov writes:

The market edge that EE gains over its competitors by being first with fast mobile broadband would, in such a scenario, be exponentially magnified. Two of the hurdles to any carrier seeing rapid adoption — educating users about the benefits of the new technology and making them see value in paying a higher price — are central to Apple's strength as a company. In piggybacking on the prospective iPhone announcement, EE would enjoy the halo effect of having Apple conduct the LTE education sessions in advance, plus the comfort of knowing it can charge a premium without consumers scoffing (too much).

I certainly recall switching to O2 to get the original iPhone back when it was exclusive to that network; whether people will switch at the same rate to get a new iPhone on a faster network is something we will find out next month, it appears.

4G iPads sit in an Apple Store in Covent Garden. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird: “Another week would have won us more seats”

The Labour MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the shadow cabinet – and campaigning with Gordon Brown in his old constituency.

On the night of 8 June 2017, Lesley Laird, a councillor from Fife and the Labour candidate for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, received a series of texts from another activist about the count. Then he told her: “You’d better get here quick.”

It was wise advice. Not only did Laird oust the Scottish National Party incumbent, but six days later she was in the shadow cabinet, as shadow Scottish secretary. 

“It is not just about what I’d like to do,” Laird says of her newfound clout when I meet her in Portcullis House, Westminster. “We have got a team of great people down here and it is really important we make use of all the talent.

“Clearly my role will be facing David Mundell across the dispatch box but it is also to be an alternative voice for Scotland.”

At the start of the general election campaign, the chatter was whether Ian Murray, Labour’s sole surviving MP from 2015, would keep his seat. In the end, though, Labour shocked its own activists by winning seven seats in Scotland (Murray kept his seat but did not return to the shadow cabinet, which he quit in June 2016.)

A self-described optimist, Laird is calm, and speaks with a slight smile.

She was born in Greenock, a town on the west coast, in November 1958. Her father was a full-time trade union official, and her childhood was infused with political activity.

“I used to go to May Day parades,” she remembers. “I graduated to leafleting and door knocking, and helping out in the local Labour party office.”

At around the age of seven, she went on a trip to London, and was photographed outside No 10 Downing Street “in the days when you could get your picture outside the front door”.

Then life took over. Laird married and moved away. Her husband was made redundant. She found work in the personnel departments of start-ups that were springing up in Scotland during the 1980s, collectively termed “Silicon Glen”. The work was unstable, with frequent redundancies and new jobs opening, as one business went bust and another one began. 

Laird herself was made redundant three times. With her union background, she realised workers were getting a bad deal, and on one occasion led a campaign for a cash settlement. “We basically played hardball,” she says.

Today, she believes a jobs market which includes zero-hours contracts is “fundamentally flawed”. She bemoans the disappearance of the manufacturing sector: “My son is 21 and I can see how limited it is for young people.”

After semiconductors, Laird’s next industry was financial services, where she rose to become the senior manager for talent for RBS. It was then that Labour came knocking again. “I got fed up moaning about politics and I decided to do something about it,” she says.

She applied for Labour’s national talent programme, and in 2012 stood and won a seat on Fife Council. By 2014, she was deputy leader. In 2016, she made a bid to be an MSP – in a leaked email at the time she urged Labour to prioritise “rebuilding our credibility”. 

This time round, because of the local elections, Laird had already been campaigning since January – and her selection as a candidate meant an extended slog. Help was at hand, however, in the shape of Gordon Brown, who stood down as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in 2015.

“If you ever go out with Gordon, the doors open and people take him into their living room,” says Laird. Despite the former prime minister’s dour stereotype, he is a figure of affection in his old constituency. “People are just in awe. They take his picture in the house.”

She believes the mood changed during the campaign: “I do genuinely believe if the election had run another week we would have had more seats."

So what worked for Labour this time? Laird believes former Labour supporters who voted SNP in 2015 have come back “because they felt the policies articulated in the manifesto resonated with Labour’s core values”. What about the Corbyn youth surge? “It comes back to the positivity of the message.”

And what about her own values? Laird’s father died just before Christmas, aged 91, but she believes he would have been proud to see her as a Labour MP. “He and I are probably very similar politically,” she says.

“My dad was also a great pragmatist, although he was definitely on the left. He was a pragmatist first and foremost.” The same could be said of his daughter, the former RBS manager now sitting in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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