Updated EE has filed notice with Ofcom of its intention to transfer 30MHz of spectrum to Three, but as expected it will be hanging onto the bands until the last possible moment.
The notice, which still has to be formally approved by the regulator, puts the first 20MHz of spectrum into Three's hands on October 1 2013, with EE clinging on to the remaining 10MHz for another two years before Three finally gets full possession in October 2015.
EE was required to sell 30MHz of spectrum as a condition of the Orange/T-Mobile merger which spawned it, as that merger left it with almost half the usable radio spectrum in the UK. But EE isn't required to relinquish the bands until September 2013 and '15 and it has (unsurprisingly) decided to hang around like an ageing teenager until the law forces it out.
1800MHz is one of the bands supported by Apple's iPhone 5 for 4G, much to the delight of EE who's been busy deploying LTE in the band. Even after the selloff EE will still have 90MHz left, though it does have to maintain a 2G network there too. The chunks going to Three can be used for 4G too, and Three has lined up Samsung to build the network to fill them once EE moves out.
By then the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands will be in operator hands, and filling up with LTE goodness without being encumbered by legacy networks or recalcitrant competitors. Vodafone claims it's already building an LTE network, on the assumption of winning some of those bands, and O2 will no doubt be at the table too.
Three has previously said that it couldn't be competitive without getting some low frequency spectrum, and the caps on holding more than 55MHz of sub-1GHz spectrum should ensure that Three gets at some 800Mhz goodness too so the operator will be able to deploy 4G in that band, even if has to wait another four years to get the 1800MHz its already bought. ®
Update: Three has been in touch to tell us it's busting a gut to get 4G operational at 1800MHz in the last few months of 2013, though the iPhone 5 will still be a doorstop by then.