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Everything Everywhere's 4G monopoly stalled by Ofcom

Rivals get extra month to land fresh blows

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Ofcom has extended the deadline for those responding to its proposal for Everything Everywhere to deploy 4G early, giving the competition more time to get its retaliation in.

Responses were required by 17 April, but anyone who wants to have their say can now submit comments until 8 May. The proposal is to allow EE to deploy a 4G (LTE) network in the mass of 1800MHz spectrum it has lying around thanks to the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, but that would grant the UK's largest operator an effective monopoly on 4G in the UK until after the still-in-the-planning-stages 4G auction.

That auction is scheduled for the end of 2012, but could well still slip if the auction proposals are challenged. In an early preemptive strike, Vodafone went so far as to suggest that if EE were granted early access to 4G it would be in EE's interest to mount just such a challenge to the 4G auction, thus prolonging that monopoly, and for the good of the country Vodafone stands ready to deploy its own lawyers to prevent that happening.

Not that Vodafone is alone in objecting. O2 has been voluble, and Three is spitting blood at discovering it's the only network not being bribed into silence by the combined proposals which were supposed to bring 4G to the UK next year.

Ofcom's original 4G auction proposals included caps on O2 and Vodafone, and reserved some low-end spectrum for Three (effectively, not explicitly), but all that got chucked out with the revision. That made O2 and Vodafone very happy, but not, it now turns out, happy enough to let EE have an 18-month monopoly on 4G networking in the UK.

Quite how Ofcom tap-dances its way out of this minefield will be interesting to watch. We've suggested before that there is no plan which won't result in the regulator facing at least one network operator in court, and sadly it's starting to look as though we were right. This extension will give respondents an additional few weeks to respond, but it will also give the regulator more time to come up with a miracle plan to appease everyone involved. ®

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