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O2 challenges Everything Everywhere 4G plans

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O2 has joined Vodafone in expressing concern over Ofcom's backing of an Everything Everywhere scheme to launch 4G mobile early.

Mobile giant O2 said that the move jeopardises the establishment of a "competitive market environment" for the next-generation mobile technology.

Ofcom will run the biggest ever single auction of mobile spectrum in UK history later in the year to enable mobile operators to start offering next generation 4G services, bringing super-fast broadband speeds to smartphones and tablets.

However, the watchdog said this month that it was "minded to approve" a bid by Everything Everywhere - the joint venture between Orange and T-Mobile UK - to reuse the 1800 MHz spectrum to provide 4G as early as this year.

As expected, the move had been criticised by rival operators, including Vodafone's chief executive Guy Laurence accusing Ofcom of having taken "leave of its senses" in accepting the proposal.

O2 has now followed suit, issuing a statement warning that allowing Everything Everywhere - the UK's largest mobile operator by customer base - to offer 4G mobile earlier than its rivals runs contrary to Ofcom's plans to safeguard a competitive market for 4G.

"From the very start of this process, Ofcom has said that the UK must retain a competitive market environment and that it will remove the ability for operators to behave strategically over spectrum allocation," said the mobile operator.

"To this end, Ofcom's auction proposals had much to commend them, and we were minded to support a small spectrum reservation for Hutchison or a new entrant, if Ofcom could make a stronger case for four players.

"However, we are concerned that Ofcom's other proposal to allow one operator to launch 4G early on its existing spectrum is contradictory to its objective of delivering a competitive market environment with four competing players. This could expose the process to further risk of delay."

Vodafone, O2 and other companies are expected to have made submissions to Ofcom's consultation on the 4G plans, which ended yesterday.

The firms are thought to be concerned that Everything Everywhere will be able to use the scheme to launch 4G early, and then set about delaying the auction with repeated legal challenges designed to prevent rivals from also entering the 4G market.

However, in a statement, Everything Everywhere said: "It is our aspiration to bring 4G to the UK as soon as possible, enabling the people and businesses of Britain to benefit from the fastest mobile data speeds, and to allow the country to catch up with Europe and the rest of the world.

"The USA already has 4G capacity in place and our major European competitors are ahead of us in setting up their own 4G networks.

"The EU has already mandated the updating of all spectrum licences across Europe, and consequently Ofcom is now carrying out its duty to make this happen quickly for British consumers and businesses. We fully support this."

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