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O2, Vodafone in cabinet bunk-up

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O2 and Vodafone successfully confused the media yesterday by announcing a network sharing deal, despite the fact that the deal extends to little more than linking up air-conditioning units and power supplies while the networks remain obstinately separate.

The deal, which was announced yesterday, involves extending the existing site-sharing deals between the networks to share some equipment, such as power supplies and air-conditioning units - hardly "the biggest shakeup of the UK's mobile phone industry since the introduction of wireless broadband" which was how the Guardian described it.

Even we managed to describe the deal as "a massive network sharing deal", but when we caught up with the CTOs of both Vodafone and O2 they made it abundantly clear that sharing networks was the last thing the companies had in mind.

"This is purposely not about radio equipment," Derek McManus of O2 told us, "As well as power supplies we'll be sharing air conditioning and making space in each other's cabinets - we've never done that before."

We suggested that this is just a continuation of the existing policy to share sites where possible. "We share quite a number of sites today, but not as aggressively," Vodafone's Iain Donaldson told us.

We asked how much sharing the two companies already do; McManus didn't have any figures to hand, but told us that in some markets half of the sites are already shared.

We took the opportunity to ask Donaldson what happened to the Vodafone/Orange network sharing deal that was announced with such publicity a couple of years back. "Some sites have combined, and terms are on the table, but [the deal] hasn't delivered the scale we had hoped for," he explained.

So what's to prevent that happening again? Apparently the companies are "being more realistic this time, practical", so linking up air-con is more likely to succeed than integrating radio networks.

Which brings us back to site sharing - it's generally a good thing, and to be approved of. But while 3 and T-Mobile are genuinely trying to integrate their radio networks (two years in, and still working on it), it's galling to see the only companies with 900MHz spectrum further confusing the issue by allowing the media to think something important is happening. ®

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