Demands for an accelerated 4G roll-out in the UK has prompted carrier arguments with a sprinkling of celebrity garnish, as LTE urgency re-opens old network rivalries. 4GBritain has been set up by Everything Everywhere - the combo-carrier behind Orange and T-Mobile UK - to apply pressure to the government and industry regulator Ofcom to speed up the approvals process and permit it to use existing spectrum holdings to roll out an LTE network this year. However rival networks claim they only heard about the 4GBritain campaign a few days ago, while some celebrities and companies cited as backers say the endorsement claims are premature.
Skepticism about Everything Everywhere's motivations are apparently at the root of the carriers' rivals concerns. They will likely have to wait until Ofcom's UK 4G spectrum auctions in 2013 in order to gather sufficient airspace to start rolling out their own LTE networks, and suggest that should Everything Everywhere be given the green light in 2012 it will have an unfair advantage.
Vodafone told SlashGear that it had only been invited to participate in the 4GBritain scheme on Friday, April 27, just days before it went public. The carrier gave us a copy of its response to its rival:
"Thank you for your offer to become involved with 4G Britain but as we have only just been informed of it we’ve not been given the detailed information needed to fully understand the intention behind it. Rest assured that Vodafone is very excited by the prospect of bringing 4G services to Britain not least because we have already launched this technology in several other markets.
We have made it clear on many occasions that we believe a competitive market for 4G services will bring real benefits to consumers, businesses and the wider British economy. We’re already asking the Government and regulator to make sure that everyone can launch this technology as soon as possible. We strongly believe that a competitive market for 4G services – as exists in other European markets – is in the best interests of everyone" Vodafone UK
Meanwhile, Vodafone told the Guardian that 4GBritain "looks like a lobbying effort set up to give an unfair competitive advantage to what is already the largest player in the market." Everything Everywhere grabbed the top-spot when it began to combine its Orange and T-Mobile UK network holdings, allowing subscribers to roam freely between the two.
However, other organizations and celebrities cited by Everything Everywhere as supporting the campaign have also distanced themselves. eBay along with Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross and Autonomy founder Mike Lynch were all name-checked in initial 4GBritain promotional material - though are not currently listed on the campaign site - despite each telling the newspaper that they have not signed up.
Everything Everywhere insists that an earlier than scheduled 4G launch in the UK could create 125,000 new jobs and boost the economy by £75bn, and denies that it is trying to gain an unfair advantage in the marketplace. It argues that its rivals also have the potential to begin early LTE roll-out:
"Everything Everywhere is proud to be helping raise awareness of the benefits of next generation telecommunications services. The 4G Britain website has been initiated by our organisation to help educate and build understanding of the benefits of 4G for consumers and businesses in the UK. It is open to all, and is intended to be an ongoing initiative which we hope many organisations will join in the coming weeks and in the future.
"We'd like to make clear that, notwithstanding the campaign, today's existing operators have an opportunity to deploy 4G services, subject to: their willingness to invest; that they have requested from Ofcom a variation to their licence; and that this has been granted. The suggestion that this campaign is designed to seek an unfair benefit for Everything Everywhere ahead of other telecoms companies is wrong.
"It is disappointing that some of our competitors are falsely claiming that an as yet unlaunched website, being built to help stimulate awareness amongst the public of potential benefits of 4G, is in any way bad for consumers and the wider British economy. This is a ridiculous position for them to adopt especially when you consider that when 4G becomes available it will bring significant levels of investment and job creation to the UK" Everything Everywhere
Currently, Ofcom plans to hold the UK 4G spectrum auctions in 2013, selling off chunks of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands for high-speed LTE service. The process - in the works for more than four years - has been punctuated by legal complaints and in-fighting, as the operators jostle for the best deal.