O2 , Vodafone, and a 4G promise

 
Vodfone shop and an O2 shop

Did you hear the sound of thundering hooves this morning? If so, that was two giants of the telecoms industry getting it together. Telefonica UK - O2 to you and me - and Vodafone have unveiled a plan to share their network infrastructure, with the promise that this will deliver next-generation 4G services to UK consumers in double-quick time.

A radical restructuring of the mobile market has been underway - and what we're seeing is the final piece in the jigsaw. There's already a network sharing agreement in place between Everything Everywhere (the daftly named combo of Orange and T-Mobile) and Three, with around 18,000 shared masts by the time the whole operation is completed. Now Vodafone and O2 will have between them 18,500 sites, each delivering coverage to both company's customers.

The UK mobile phone industry has been struggling to adapt to a new world where data from smartphones - rather than voice calls - is putting an increasing load on their networks. At the press conference unveiling the alliance, Telefonica UK's Ronan Dunne talked of a data tsunami, which was only going to get bigger, as 50% of UK teenagers now had a smartphone.

That's why the much delayed auction of 4G spectrum - which should offer much greater capacity - is so important for a digital Britain where more and more of our internet use is going to take place over mobile rather than fixed networks. But now, promised Guy Laurence of Vodafone, the two companies would be able to deliver 4G coverage to 98% of the UK population by the end of 2015 - two years earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

But when I mentioned this story on Twitter this morning, the reaction from many O2 and Vodafone customers was immediate - never mind 4G, when are we going to get some reliable 3G or even 2G around here? The two firms insist this is good news for notspots, where customers will, according to Guy Laurence, "go from zero to hero" in the next couple of years. In particular, they are stressing that indoor coverage - lamentable even in some urban areas in my experience - will be vastly improved.

Customers who have been hearing similar promises for many years may be excused for being cynical. But this time it looks as though both Cornerstone, the Telefonica/Vodafone joint venture, and MBNL, Everything Everywhere's alliance with Three, are serious about investing enough to deliver proper coverage.

So what we will be left with is two mobile networks at the wholesale level, with consumers then able to choose between four main suppliers, plus virtual network operators like Tesco and Virgin. Much the same, in fact, as the fixed line industry, where BT and Virgin Media have an effective wholesale duopoly, but there is still plenty of choice at the retail level.

Four telecoms giants now have the task of delivering on the promise of Digital Britain outlined by the last two governments. The culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has pledged that Britain will have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015, with mobile playing a vital role in that. Now it's up to the private sector to make it happen.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 58.

    2015, is still far too slow. By time it is finished the world would have moved on.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 57.

    Why do we need huge masts? Why can't we have inexpensive small aerials, like TV aerials, on every building? Then everyone could fit their own for a tenner, and we'd have 100% coverage everywhere. If people in rural areas can get a TV signal, they should be able to get a mobile signal.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 56.

    @ 32. ReformNotRevolution - Actually the US isn't that much different. You either buy broadband from the Cable Monopoly, or the phone monopoly. if your phone provider aint rolling out any more fibre (read, all of them) and you don't want cable, say hello to 2Mbps ADSL - a fraction of what we get.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 55.

    The 2 main causes of existing coverage problems are 1) In areas with low population density, carriers are unwilling to provide proper infrastructure for financial reasons. 2) In many areas, obtaining planning permission to put radio masts in suitable locations is very difficult. I see no signs at all that any of the carriers are doing anything to address these problems, so how will 4G be better ?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 54.

    I part company with losers. 4G is not a loser. Bring it on.
    Regards,

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 53.

    What a racket!
    Use every piece of political machinery to entice big businesses into bidding unearthly sums of money to give them the right to charge extortionate prices for....a phone call !
    Yes, its just a phone call!
    In the not too distant past a phone call would cost 2 pence, but the men in charge have figured out how to get 10, 20, 30 pence for a phone call.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 52.

    How about the southwest? Im on sky broadband, and dont even get 5kb/s during 5:30 to 11:30, they literally throttle the connection, with no justification, every day, and never reply to any emails or such. the only response, was once, when they said nothing but "the local networks are heavily outdated, and need refitting with fibre optic cable. we arent paying though, several companies share them.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 50.

    They should have been told to finish the 3G network first! The cities wireless nets will just get faster and faster and rural areas will be left 20 years behind the times. Oh, for some joined up government and telecoms planning!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    well lets hope it lives up to the hipe!

    tea anyone!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    Vodaphone and O2 is a poor marriage and in many respects all mobile telco's should combine there 4g investment and become virtual telco's with stakes in the holding network running company.

    This would be fair to Three et all and would be good for consumers, and also use resources in a more economical and fairer way. So wont happen sadly the opposite since privatisation.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 47.

    @40 'The price they had to pay for the 3G spectrum was disgusting'

    It was an auction, so the operators set the price themselves.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 46.

    I'd rather have a mobile tower than a wind farm.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 45.

    I'm unconvinced by the claims of better coverage, what will happen is they'll decommission some masts so some areas will actually be worse than now.
    This is exactly what's happening now with Orange/Tmobile merge.
    Urban areas which already have choice of Fast ADSL, Cable and good 3g will get the new service and rural areas like here in North York Moors will still not even be able to send a text.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 44.

    4G? I'm still waiting for the time I can afford to use the 3G network, even just to make a phone call!

    We're constantly told that we must move forward and adopt new technology, but not once have I heard anyone say that they will reduce end user costs to enable us all to do that.

    No, it's always move forward and adopt new technology and make sure you pay an arm and a leg whilst your doing it.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 43.

    I think most people would rather Vodafone and O2 (Telefonica) would sort out their crummy 3G networks, before chasing the dragon of 4G speed, though I'm sure Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and the marketing department are salivating at the marketing spend.

    I'm not talking about poor 3G signal indoors, I'm talking about non-existant 3G and I live around 1 mile from the M6, Junction 1 - hardly rural.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 42.

    Perhaps it would be an idea if the mobile giants concentrated on making their basic service work before they embark on yet another generation of G? Coverage in the UK is poor in many areas; users (their customers I think they are called) may prefer the basics to work before embarking on yet another costly technological explosion which will duly fail to deliver on its promise.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 41.

    An FYI for other readers - indoor coverage *will* improve with the launch of LTE services. They will be using two bands in Europe, 2.6Ghz and 800Mhz. The former will carry more bandwidth, while the latter has better range in rural areas and diffracts through buildings more easily. In comparison, 3G only uses 2.1Ghz which does have trouble with buildings.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 40.

    I honestly can't blame the mobile network for not investing more in their infrastructure.

    The price they had to pay for the 3G spectrum was disgusting.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    Its about time infrastructure investment started again in the UK!

    Its not physical of course but still important.

    With that said, I agree about the comments about O2. I recently switched to Three because even O2's 2G signal was very unacceptable.

 

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