Archive for June, 2012

The blame game

The UK has been waiting a long time for LTE, and according to ED Vaizey, the UK’s communications minister, it’s going to have to wait a fair bit longer. Speaking at the Future Entertainment Summit (FES) in London, he told the delegates that while UK regulator Ofcom was taking the head to the delay, the fault lies at the door of the telecoms companies and their coterie of lawyers who are poised to attack.

Vaizey said that 4G, as LTE is now called, would arrive in 2013/2014, which implies the end of 2013. “”We are not going to clear the spectrum until the end of 2013 and Ofcom needs to go through a massive process [with 4G] as it will get sued by telcos if it doesn’t get it right. So, if you are looking at what is delaying it, it is not Ofcom it is the telecom companies.”

It’s not news to anyone following the UK telecoms industry, but Vaizey’s words have been picked up by a wider audience at the FES event and shown just how much the UK really is being left behind when it comes to mobile communications. LTE is becoming ever more widespread and just today it was announced that O2 has launched LTE in the Czech Republic. I imagine that some visitors to London for the Olympics will be surprised to find that there’s not LTE in London.

It seems the best hope is still the announcement by Everything Everywhere that it would launch by the end of 2012 using its spare 1800MHz capacity, which doesn’t require any of that spectrum clearing. Here’s hoping it goes ahead, and that Ofcom has the cojones to let it happen, regardless of the legal threats.

Good vibrations in the UK: Vodafone and O2 come together

ImageThere have been major developments in the UK mobile operator market today with the news that Vodafone and O2, the UK arm of Telefonica, would be coming together and sharing resources in order to build their networks faster.

It’s a direct response, if somewhat delayed, to the threat from Everything Everywhere, a joint venture between Orange (France Telecom) and T-Mobile (Deutsche Telekom ), and Three (Hutchison Whampoa). It’s not an entirely new venture, as the two have been sharing some sites since 2009 in a venture called Cornerstone, but this takes it from 4000 sites up to 18,500 masts and towers shared.

It’s not a full joint venture as with Everything Everywhere – customers won’t be able to choose between Vodafone and O2 signals, and the two companies will continue to compete in every other way.

It’s great news.

The two operators claim that this deal will bring 2G and 3G coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population by 2015, finally dealing with the many notspots that continue to plague this not particularly large country.

What’s particularly welcome is that the pair claim that it will enable them to bring 4G,by which we have to assume means LTE, quicker than they would separately. Ofcom, the UK regulator stipulates that there should be 98 per cent coverage of 4G by 2017 so this should help them meet that claim.

Network sharing does seem to be the way forward, especially in these cash strapped town. It simply makes sense from an efficiency point of view. Is there much sense in having the same areas covered by multiple networks by rival network offering essentially the same service.

The two companies said that the consolidation could also enable them to trim the fat and they could shrink the sites they run by 10 per cent.

Speaking at the LTE World Summit last month, Eduardo Duato, CTO at Orange Spain said as much, pointing out that while the US makes do with just four major networks, Europe, roughly the same size land mass, has over 100. He called on his local regulators and all those across Europe to support operator’s sharing prospects. “It doesn’t make sense to have this many networks [in Europe]” he said “we have to move to LTE network sharing.”

Vodafone and O2 seem to agree with him.

The move will mean that there will essentially two networks running in the UK – the MBNL network that powers Everything Everywhere and 3, and the extended Cornerstone network of Vodafone and O2.

So what do we have here then? Intelligent combining of resources, offering the potential for much improved coverage and accelerated roll out of next gen LTE services, and all with some extra cost cutting thrown in.

It all sounds alarmingly, well, sensible. At this rate, we could have operators making money and even satisfied customers.

Crazy times.

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