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Monday, 10 October 2011

Newswash over latest UK 4G delays

News seeped out very late on Friday afternoon that fast 4G mobile data in the UK would be further delayed.

Funny that the news should come out at 5:30pm Friday.  Strange that there should be no official Ofcom press release.  Even stranger that, according to the BBC's Rory Cellan Jones on his blog, the network operators themselves were spinning news of the delays.

So what's in the news this morning on the 4G front? Britain's first 4G trial begins. Big whoop. This is a limited trial of 200 people in Cornwall and has very little bearing on progress deploying commercial 4G services in the UK.

This is a total and utter pre-planned newswash! Get the bad news out Friday night when no-one's listening and spin a minor bit of positive non-news ready for Monday morning.

Those who stand to profit most from delaying 4G data - according to several studies data is the least profitable part of a mobile network, and the profitability per megabyte downloaded is falling - seem to have cornered the news agenda.

No news this morning of the legal threats from the big operators over Ofcom's plan to ensure strong competition in the mobile data market when it makes radio spectrum available for 4G; thereby, according to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, delaying the auction process.

I've heard two analysts briefing that our study into the cost to the UK economy from further delays in 4G deployment is flawed because it refers to the spectrum auction, yet 4G would also be deployed on existing spectrum currently used for 3G services.

My response: it's not  - the so-called re farming of spectrum can only occur at the same pace 4G is adopted in mobile phones attached to the network.  The auction makes new spectrum available to build a data-focussed network in parallel, allowing data-intensive users to move over sooner.

It also brings competition in the market.  As I noted, there is very little incentive for incumbent mobile network operators to speed up the deployment of 4G - they like the profits they currently get from voice, text and multimedia messaging.  Competition brought by the auction of new spectrum should - if Ofcom get it right - stimulate UK investment in fast mobile data.

News editors in particular - watch for the stories driven by the money!



  1. A new entrant would have to build a new mobile network and infrastructure costs are still huge. LTE can work at 800MHz (great coverage, lower bandwidth) or 2.6GHz (lots of bandwidth, very limited coverage).

    The big advantage of the existing networks ref arming existing 2G spectrum for 3G (or 4G) services is they get the extra coverage and can fill in 3G black-spots where they may have 2G signals.

    Building a new network from scratch would be hugely costly and take considerably time. Maybe BT could do it (where they want wireless rural broadband which could use LTE or urban area 3G/4G services so they could offer their own mobile network), they already have sites and capacity, but they're unlikely to compete on price ...

  2. Steve - I keep reading the same arguments about cost and 3G vs 4G but we're currently in the embarrassing situation where we hardly have any 3G coverage outside of major population areas, and the 3G we have in cities is so congested it's just as bad as being in the town.

    You conveniently forget to mention Three, who are screaming out for spectrum ASAP. Is this some kind of conspiracy by the big three to keep Three out of the running? Certainly seems that way. Three have the existing network infrastructure and investment ready - undoing a lot of your argument.


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