The network, which is the umbrella company for both Orange and T-Mobile, has been pushing for the decision for the best part of a year, accusing the likes of O2 and Vodafone of deliberately dragging their feet.
Meanwhile, Three is said to be in advanced discussions with Everything Everywhere about buying parts of its 1800MHz spectrum, meaning it too will be able to roll-out 4G before the end of the year.
As the dust settles on what will have far-reaching consequences on the mobile industry as a whole, Pocket-lint has been speaking to operators and industry analysts to find out their thoughts on Ofcom’s decision.
“Ofcom has today approved an application by the mobile phone operator Everything Everywhere (EE) to use its existing 1800MHz spectrum to deliver 4G services.
"Following a consultation, Ofcom has concluded that varying EE’s 1800MHz licences now will deliver significant benefits to consumers, and that there is no material risk that those benefits will be outweighed by a distortion of competition. Delaying doing so would therefore be to the detriment of consumers.
"The decision takes account of the forthcoming release of additional spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, in an auction process set to begin later this year, which will enable other operators to launch competing 4G services from next year.
"In parallel with this decision, Ofcom has now issued varied licences to EE, which authorise LTE services from 11 September 2012. This means that EE can launch LTE services using its 1800MHz spectrum at any point from that date, although the precise timing of any launch is a commercial decision for Everything Everywhere.”
"Ofcom's decision to make 4G available this year is great news for the UK. Consumers will soon be able to benefit from the much greater mobile speeds that 4G will deliver. 4G will drive investment, employment and innovation and we look forward to making it available later this year, delivering superfast mobile broadband to the UK."
"People are increasingly using smartphones, tablets and other connected devices to get online and 4G will play an important part in meeting the growing demand for wireless capacity. Launching 4G services this year promises to bring significant benefits to UK consumers as people begin to make the most of forthcoming superfast mobile connections."
“It’s shaping up to be an exciting Autumn for smart phone users! There’s not only a wave of excitement for the new generation of handsets and operating systems, but customers can now look forward to experiencing 4G for the first time. They’re going to see ultra-fast internet speeds, improving the experience of browsing the web on the go, particularly streaming or downloading video content. It’s going to be perfectly timed for Christmas, when most customers plan to buy their new handset," said Graham Stapleton, chief commercial officer at Carphone Warehouse.
“We are frankly shocked that Ofcom has reached this decision. The regulator has shown a careless disregard for the best interests of consumers, businesses and the wider economy through its refusal to properly regard the competitive distortion created by allowing one operator to run services before the ground has been laid for a fully competitive 4G market.
"Ofcom’s timing is particularly bizarre given the reports that Everything Everywhere is currently in discussions to sell some of its spectrum to Three, which Ofcom has previously been at such pains to protect with its over-engineering of the 4G auction. This means the balance in the auction will fundamentally change.
"The regulator has spent several years refusing to carry out a fair and open auction. Now its decision today has granted the two most vociferous complainants during that entire process a massive incentive to further delay it.
"We wholeheartedly support the Secretary of State’s call for the 4G auction to occur in December and look to the regulator to finally do its job and produce a competitive market for 4G services as soon as possible.
"We firmly believe that a fully competitive market for 4G services is in the best interests of Britain. We have already committed ourselves to reach 98 per cent of the UK population with indoor 4G services by 2015 - two years before Ofcom’s own target - but we need to acquire spectrum in the auction to achieve this. Ironically, all that stands in our way right now is the regulator."
“We are hugely disappointed with today’s announcement, which will mean the majority of consumers will be excluded from the first wave of digital services. This decision undermines the competitive environment for 4G in the UK.”
“Liberalisation of 2G spectrum to date has distorted the competitive landscape in the UK, which ultimately harms consumers. Further liberalisation without addressing competition issues could make that distortion worse.”
The Analyst Opinion
Ernest Doku, technology analyst for uSwitch.com:
"It is exciting that we could see the super-fast mobile revolution arrive as soon as September, the arrival of 4G will hopefully bring with it a wave of new devices, apps and services that will take advantage of download and streaming speeds that were once the preserve of our homes.
"However, it also seems that Ofcom has put the onus on networks providing a 4G service to the UK more quickly than expected over and above concerns of competition between providers.
"This move gives a head-start to Everything Everywhere, whose customers could well enjoy the benefits of LTE services before the end of the year. In the event that Apple's next iPhone supports 4G connectivity as rumours suggest, [it will] certainly place Orange and T-Mobile in an enviable position to bring out the best in the device upon its launch.
"What is also important is that this move doesn't come at a cost to consumers and that Everything Everywhere provides a competitive selection of price points and data packages, despite stealing a march on other networks.
"The reactions from the other providers are understandable - while Everything Everywhere has been given the green light to start delivering, other networks will be left frustrated at this decision.
"They have to wait until the auction in 2013 to leverage additional spectrum for 4G, and months after that to roll out an equivalent service. What remains to be seen is whether this creates an unassailable lead for Everything Everywhere in the evolution of the UK's mobile landscape."
So there you have it. Ofcom’s decision certainly divides opinion. Interestingly, Three’s official stance is one of being against Everything Everywhere’s early 4G roll-out. Whether this will change should it indeed be in the process of buying part of Everything Everywhere’s spectrum only time will tell.
What is certain is that 4G is (finally) coming to the UK. Everything Everywhere is certainly in the driving seat. It’s now time for the other networks to dry their tears and make sure they are in the best position for Ofcom’s auction next year.
“Acquiring this spectrum will more than double the capacity available to customers on our network. We have seen a huge growth in data consumption with average mobile handset customer usage now more than 1.1GB per month.
"Three has led the market in the significant growth of mobile data consumption and the shift to consumer use of smartphones to access the internet. New spectrum, supported by further committed technology spend, is a clear signal that we are committed to maintain our lead as the network built for the mobile internet,” said Dave Dyson, CEO of Three UK.
What are your thoughts on Ofcom's decision? Let us know in the comments below...
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