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21 August 2012

Everything Everywhere bringing 4G to UK in September

Will the mobile phone conglomerate gain a valuable Apple boost?

By Alex Hern

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.

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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.