Telecoms in 2012: A successful year for the UK… in playing catch-up.

By Sooraj Shah
19 Dec 2012 View Comments

The importance of LTE technology being deployed in the UK was emphasised by CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce 2012, when he claimed that 4G will enable marketing businesses to run their enterprise on an iPad.

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But the likelihood of the UK having a 4G network in place before the end of the year seemed incredibly low when 2012 began.

Several delays for the 4G spectrum auction meant that sceptics did not take communications regulator Ofcom's plans for the 4G auction seriously - as there was always a chance of further delays.

The postponements were a result of ongoing conflict between the network operators about how and when the auction should take place. While the government and Ofcom's response to ensure that this was conducted fairly and competitively stretched out an already lengthy process.

Despite Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards stating that he hoped the debate would not "spill out into litigation", there had reportedly been several threats for legal action by mobile operators that did not materialise.

If Ofcom's initial consultation times had been correct, the UK's 4G auction would have begun in the first quarter of 2012. Instead final applications had to be in by 11 December, with the bidding set to begin in January 2013.

As well as mobile operators Vodafone, O2 and Three likely to bid for 4G spectrum, BT revealed to Computing in July that it may also bid at the auction, while Sky and Virgin Media opted out of the process.

Although the 4G auction is important for the UK in its bid to increase mobile speeds for consumers, it was the 1800MHz (or 2G) spectrum that EE owned that came under increased scrutiny this year.

After months of debate - and arguments - between the mobile operators, EE, which was formed by T-Mobile and Orange, was allowed to re-purpose its 2G spectrum to deliver LTE services. This was after Ofcom had declared that "there was no material risk that [the benefits consumers would gain from 4G] will be outweighed by a distortion of competition".

At one point EE released a campaign in which it said consumers needed 4G sooner - and asked its rivals to join the campaign; the campaign was slammed by its rivals for only being in the interests of EE and not consumers.

EE finally launched the 4G network in October, but since the unveiling Orange has been experiencing problems with its 3G network, with customers continuing to flood Computing with complaints about the service. EE said it expects more than 20 million people to have access to 4G by the end of the year but there is no indication of how many of those people are likely to take up the services.

While 2012 may have been a step forward for the UK, in comparison to the likes of the US, Australia and other countries, it is still playing catch-up.

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