A government brokered deal to bring 4G services to the UK months ahead of schedule has been agreed between the four operators.
Culture secretary Maria Miller held high ranking talks this afternoon between Ofcom, EE, O2, Vodafone and Three to thrash out an agreement that would see the timetable for 4G brought forward. The talks also included a pledge that legal action would not be launched against either EE's attempts to launch 4G this year, or the next generation spectrum auction itself.
The deal will still give EE a competitive headstart on its 4G service as the earliest its rivals can launch a 4G service is likely to be six months ahead of schedule, raising the possibility of a spring launch. EE has promised to launch next generation mobile in 16 cities by the end of this year. This was almost a year ahead of its rivals, who under the terms of next year's 4G auction were able to launch their own propositions by autumn 2013 at the earliest.
As Mobile reported last month, the four operators, the regulator Ofcom and infrastructure company Arqiva had been in discussions about how to speed up this process. As well as bringing forward the auction, the organisations have looked at ways of shortening the length of time it takes for spectrum to be cleared.
Welcoming the deal, culture secretary Maria Miller said: 'Delivering 4G quickly is a key part of our economic growth strategy. I am grateful to the mobile operators for their co-operation in bringing forward vital 4G services.
'The open and collaborative approach taken between the Government and the mobile companies will have hugely beneficial results for UK business and investment.
'We anticipate that 4G services will boost the UK’s economy by around £2-3 billion. This is an example of the Government listening and responding to huge demand from both the public and business. High-speed mobile connections, will mean that online services can be accessed more easily and quickly.
'By speeding up the delivery of 4G in the UK, the Government is creating enormous opportunities. It is up to the operators to now deliver the services that businesses and consumers expect and we are confident they will succeed.'
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: 'The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services.
'Ofcom's objective has always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and we remain focused on starting the auction by the end of the year.'
Editor: Graeme Neill