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4G launch confirmed as October 30 by EE, as Ofcom accelerates auction

UK's first 4G network will go live at the end of the month, but rival services won't be far behind

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EE, the UK mobile operator formerly known as Everything Everywhere, has announced that its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network will go live to customers on 30 October 2012.

EE's network will initially launch in 10 cities across the country, and will cover 16 cities by the end of the year. Further towns, cities and rural areas will follow rapidly with coverage to reach 98% by 2014.

“This is a significant milestone for the United Kingdom, and for the people and businesses of our country who will now be able to enjoy the huge advantages of superfast 4G technology for the first time,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of EE.

In preparation for the launch, EE has begun selling a selection of 4G-enabled smartphones. The company has already announced availability of the Apple iPhone 5, and will also offer the Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, HTC One XL and Huawei Ascend P1 LTE from today.

Orange and T-Mobile customers can buy any of these devices on their 3G price plans and can then choose to move across to the new 4G EE customer brand when it launches or remain on the existing 3G network.

EE will be the first mobile operator to launch a commercial 4G LTE service in the UK. The company has managed to steal a march on rival operators Vodafone, O2 and Three by using its existing 1800MHz spectrum to launch 4G services, rather than waiting for the auction of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, scheduled for January 2013.

Many of the operators feel aggrieved that EE has been given a considerable head start in the 4G race, and have been petitioning the communications regulator Ofcom to accelerate the auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz, to enable them to launch their own 4G networks sooner rather than later.

Vodafone and O2 were even rumoured to be considering legal action against Ofcom, for giving EE an unfair advantage and “undermining the competitive environment for 4G in the UK”.

Following peace talks between Ofcom, Culture Secretary Maria Miller and UK mobile operators yesterday, Ofcom has announced that this spectrum will now be cleared and ready for 4G mobile services across much of the UK five months earlier than previously planned – from spring 2013.

The regulator said that this has only become possible in the past few months as a result of the significant progress that has been made to date with the digital switchover and the clearance programme itself, which has been running ahead of schedule.

“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,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

Patrick Clark, head of telecoms and partner at international law firm Taylor Wessing, welcomed the decision by operators not to take legal action against Ofcom, claiming that these threats have been perceived as a major factor in delaying the formal UK 4G auction process.

However, he warned that “there is still no complete guarantee that pledges made yesterday by the mobile networks are not merely a 'ceasefire' rather than a formal end to hostilities”.


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