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O2, Vodafone allowed to hop onto each other's towers

Watchdog approves network-sharing love-in

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The UK Office of Fair Trading has formally approved O2 and Vodafone sharing infrastructure for their 2G and 3G networks, and probably upcoming 4G networks too.

The plan to share network infrastructure was announced back in June, but had to be assessed by the Office of Fair Trading, which has now announced that it can go ahead. The networks will remain separate, on different radio frequencies, but the base station infrastructure will be shared between the two to reduce running costs and speed up deployment of new technologies.

The operators already share power suppliers and air conditioning at a lot of cell sites, under their Cornerstone project, but this deal is a carbon copy of that which exists between EE (owner of the Orange and T-Mobile brands) and Three – although EE and Three's deal only covers 3G, as Three has no 2G network to share. Telefonica (owner of the O2 brand) and Voda, on the other hand, will share 2G as well, and are also planning to share 4G infrastructure – depending of course on how next year's mega-auction goes – and this should make deployment quicker.

Three and EE are to run separate 4G networks, with the hardware coming from Samsung and Huawei respectively. Both networks will operate in the 1800MHz band that EE was given in order to host 2G services. Way back when, when Orange and T-Mobile merged to become EE, the newly borged mobile network operator was required to sell off a chunk of that band, which will now go to Three, though EE won't be clearing out of it particularly quickly (it isn't required to hand over any of the spectrum until September next year).

Telefonica and Vodafone own decent bands at 900MHz, currently full of 2G but well suited to 3G. Fitting 4G into those bands would be hard as they're broken up into 5MHz stripes alternately owned by each company, and 4G excels at spreading into broader bands, so some sort of spectrum swap would be necessary to make it viable.

Next year's mega-auction will change the landscape significantly, and any 4G network sharing from Telefonica and Vodafone will be entirely dependent on what they end up holding when the dust settles afterwards. ®

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