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3G networks finally start to merge

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Mobile Broadband Network Limited, the company set up to manage the UK's combined 3G network for operators 3 and T-Mobile, has announced that Arqiva will be providing 5,100 cell sites to be used by both networks.

More than year after signing a deal to set up a shared network, Arqiva has signed a deal to provide the sites, a process that should involve shutting down 5,000 sites as well as saving £2bn over the next 10 years.

Arqiva is an unsurprising choice - the company was created out of the UK bit of Crown Castle and runs 24,000 broadcast sites around the UK, many of which are let to mobile phone companies. Several companies often share the same physical location, if not local equipment.

Site sharing is old news, and while Vodafone and O2 are very pleased with their recently-announced shared-air-conditioning deal, 3 and T-Mobile are going a great deal further by actually sharing the same network infrastructure, providing greater savings at the cost of greater risk.

The deal between Vodafone and O2 will save money, and can be rolled out one site at a time with very little risk, but the level of integration (and thus architected separation) between the 3 and T-Mobile networks makes the deployment much more risky - but with a corresponding return if all goes well.

The plan is to have the networks integrated by next year, which should see 3 and T-Mobile offering identical 3G coverage better than that offered by each company individually, and which includes considerable expansion. We'll have to see if enlarged coverage takes a back seat to cost saving, however. ®

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