Everything Everywhere could begin rolling out 4G services later this year if it gets the go-ahead to launch a 'small scale' 4G mobile broadband offer.
The operator has applied to refarm some of its existing 1800MHz spectrum for 4G use and if this is granted, could become the first UK company to offer 4G services. It is hoping to get regulatory approval by April or May and if Ofcom gives it the go-ahead, could launch this mobile broadband offer by late 2012. CEO Olaf Swantee, who said he was frustrated at how long it has taken for 4G to come to the UK, said it is choosing to offer mobile broadband because of the lack of availability of 4G-enabled handsets in the UK. He said: 'It's exciting because by the end of this year the UK will be back in line with some of the other markets that have 4G today.'
The operator is also launching a second test of 4G services. Due to begin in April in Bristol, the trial will test 4G performance in urban and suburban environments. However, unlike its current trial of 800MHz spectrum in rural Cornwall, which launched in September last year and was recently extended until July 2012, the trial will be closed.
Swantee also revealed the rollout of its 3G upgrade technology, known as HSPA+ 21 or 3.5G, has reached 60% of the network and will be completed by the end of the second quarter this year. The upgrade will deliver up to 50% faster data download speeds and up to 100% faster upload speeds for customers with compatible devices. Everything Everywhere will begin trialling HSPA+ 42 in the second quarter of this year, with the intention to start rolling out the technology by the end of 2012.
The 4G mobile broadband offer, upgrading of 3G to 3.5G and the Bristol trial will be paid for as part of Everything Everywhere's £1.5bn network investment, which was announced in December. The operator is spending the equivalent of £1.4m per day on improving its network.
Swantee said he was confident the company would get regulatory approval. He said: 'I am very confident from the signals I have received from the Government and Ofcom about liberalisation. It's clear this is a priority and they want to move on this. It's in their interests that the UK gets access to 4G services as soon as possible and the UK is put on par with other markets.' If it is granted, the service could be extended to its MVNO partners.
Swantee, who told staff of the new initiatives at the beginning of the week, spoke of his frustration about the UK market falling behind that of others when it came to the rollout of 4G services. He referred to the company's growth in data of 150% that was announced in its most recent results as well as the demand for the likes of gaming and streaming film. He said: 'The US used to be years behind the UK in terms of mobile technology and now when you go over there, they have 4G services on tap. You can walk into a store and buy a new 4G handset or dongle.'
He reiterated his position that the forthcoming spectrum auction needs to distribute the sub-1GHz spectrum more fairly. He said: 'Vodafone and O2 have an economic advantage because they operate all the lower-end spectrum in the country. There are not many countries that have the same situation. We really hope by the end of the auction there is a better balance.'
Meanwhile, the operator is set to announce 'imminently' which bank it has hired to handle the sale of a chunk of its 1800MHz spectrum. When the company was formed through the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, it was required to sell 2x15MHz of the 1800MHz band. Kip Meek, director of spectrum strategy, said it was 'likely' to sell the chunk of the spectrum in the autumn, after Ofcom lays out the rules of the 4G spectrum auction.