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Samsung will be supplying Three's 4G network, squashing ideas that the network-sharing deal with EE would simply be extended and giving Samsung a significant foothold in an increasingly competitive market.

Samsung will provide the Radio Access Network, and the core infrastructure, for Three's LTE (4G) network. That includes the base stations, and radio core, which will start testing later this year with a view to switching on during 2013, just as soon as EE can be convinced to clear out of the frequencies needed.

The deal is the first European-infrastructure contract for Samsung, a relative newcomer to what used to be a cosy oligopoly, but is equally important to Three as it signifies that the UK's smallest operator intends to build its own 4G network rather than extending the current network-sharing arrangement with EE.

Three shares a 3G network with the UK's largest network operator Everything Everywhere, which has been busy deploying LTE kit from Huawei to take advantage of its monopoly on 4G in the UK. The assumption was that this sharing deal would simply be extended to include LTE, especially given Three's purchase of EE's excessive holdings at 1800MHz – which will make them neighbours, spectrally speaking.

But it's obviously not to be, and Three will have its very own network for 4G. Initial testing and deployment will likely be in that 1800MHz band, but Three would be foolish not to be deploying equipment capable of working in the 800MHz and 2.5GHz bands which are coming up for auction next year.

Three might not be sharing a 4G network with EE, but the base stations will probably still co-locate with its former partner as in most cases new equipment will go into the existing sites. EE still isn't saying where its sites are, and refusing to explain why, but it's unlikely that 4G will see many new locations for either operator, as there's no great incentive to extend coverage. ®

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