UK 4G launch facing legal delays

24 September 2012 |

The long awaited launch of 4G services in the UK could still be held back by litigation in what is reported to be the final week of talks between the country’s mobile operators and regulator Ofcom.

The Financial Times cites unnamed sources as describing the government-backed negotiations as “still in the balance” with no resolution achieved.

Among the topics of discussion are accelerating the country’s 4G spectrum auction, which is due to take place early next year, and streamlining the planning process for the roll-out of masts, according to the publication.

Four separate working groups have reportedly been established to accelerate the auction date and the time to prepare spectrum for 4G use.

Also key on the agenda is the Ofcom approval of France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom joint venture Everything Everywhere’s (EE) plans to launch 4G services ahead of the auction.

EE announced earlier this month that it planned to cover a third of the UK’s population with its 4G network by Christmas, with launches in 16 cities.

The company was granted permission to convert some of its excess 1800MHz spectrum, gained through the combination of Orange and T-Mobile’s spectrum holdings, for 4G services in August.

The decision angered rival operators Vodafone, Telefónica’s O2 and Hutchison’s 3UK, which will have to wait until the auction to launch their own 4G services.

Concerns over the first mover advantage this would give EE were further aroused when it was revealed last week that Apple’s new iPhone 5 only supports the 1800MHz band for 4G services in the UK.

Analysts believe that this could give EE a monopoly on customers looking to utilise the iPhone’s 4G capability, as the spectrum from the upcoming 4G auction will not be compatible with the device.

Should no agreement be reached it could mean years of litigation, with the UK already lagging behind the likes of Azerbaijan and Lithuania in the launch of 4G services.