Exclusive Everything Everywhere is planning a "grassroots" lobbying campaign for 4G infrastructure, but sadly 4G Britain hasn't the space to say who's funding it, or who stands to gain most from its success.
The site isn't even live yet, though a mocked-up version has popped up a few times in the last week, and letters (seen by El Reg) have been sent out to business organisations asking them to support the campaign. The campaign also seeks to get the public lobbying MPs for more 4G networking – which is top for EE as by an amazing coincidence it is the only company able to deploy 4G right now.
"A coalition of businesses, campaign groups and the voluntary sector is coming together to encourage government to help ensure 4G LTE isn’t delayed any further," explains the letter, going on to explain that this group will hold an events and lobby media as well as hosting the 4GBritain.org website. The letter goes on to ask if the recipient would like to lend some support to the campaign in the form of attending events or allowing use of its logo.
The early version of the site, which disappeared again this morning after we spoke to EE, carried logos from BT, 3 and the Federation of Small Businesses, among others, though it seems those were a little premature:
“We’d be delighted to join a campaign that helped to bring the benefits of 4G communications to UK consumers as soon as possible," said Three, on being told of their apparent support. "Our only concern would be if it turns out to be a campaign that is really promoting a 4G monopoly for just one operator.”
Ofcom is still consulting on its proposal to let EE deploy 4G into the huge swath of 1.8GHz spectrum it has lying around the place. Across the dial EE has almost as much radio spectrum as all the other operators combined (169.8MHz, compared to the 181.4MHz shared between the other three), so much spectrum, in fact, that it is being obliged to sell off 30MHz as part of the merger conditions.
That selloff also enables EE to deny that it is asking for a monopoly. The 30MHz is in the band covered by the Ofcom's liberalisation, so anyone is free to buy it up and deploy 4G whenever they feel inclined... just as soon as EE gets round to selling it off.
We suggested to Kip Meek, the former independent spectrum broker to the government who is now on the EE payroll, that EE would have no incentive to sell off the spectrum until the day before the mega-auction, but he dismissed that suggestion, claiming that EE would be pleased to dispose of another "moving part" in the increasingly chaotic UK radio spectrum market.
Meek also pointed out that O2 and/or Vodafone could deploy 4G into their 900MHz spectrum, but admitted that the arrangement of ownership (sliced into 5MHz chunks, with each operator having one 10MHz pair) was entirely unsuited to the deployment of LTE, which really needs 20MHz of contiguous spectrum – any deployment would be for marketing purposes only.
The chaotic UK market is born of early 2G and 3G deployments, and the commitment to have four operators competing on a level playing field, and despite appearances there isn't any obvious solution. Lobbying MPs and staging media events, not to mentioning astroturfing campaigns, could potentially be seen as a convenient way to blame someone else for the delays – Ofcom, the other operators, the government, etc – and to pile more political pressure on Ofcom to approve EE's application to deploy 4G ahead of the auction.
Ironically it was T-Mobile, which now makes up half of EE, which prevented Ofcom from selling off 4G spectrum (at 2.6GHz) back in 2008/9, on the grounds it would upset the spectrum market. If that hadn't happened, the UK could be swaddled in WiMAX* by now. Now everyone claims to want the spectrum in private hands as quickly as possible; they just disagree on whose hands should be filled the most. ®
* WiMAX was still pretty big in 2009, but is all but dead these days, so perhaps we dodged a bullet there.