3 UK mulls pooling 800 MHz spectrum with EE, may speed up LTE launch

UK mobile operator 3 UK has discussed the option of pooling its 800 MHz spectrum with that of rival operator EE, and also suggested it could launch commercial LTE services ahead of schedule this year.

According to UK press reports from a roundtable briefing held by 3 UK on Thursday, the company may bring forward by several months its plan to launch LTE towards the end of the year, meaning that 3 UK users could have access to the high-speed mobile data services by late summer.

Such a move may depend on the outcome of talks between 3 UK and EE on the possibility of pooling spectrum. According to Total Telecom, 3 UK CEO Dave Dyson confirmed he has met with EE over combining their respective blocks 800 MHz spectrum. EE launched its LTE services using its refarmed 1800 MHz spectrum at the end of 2012.

During the UK spectrum auction in February, 3 UK and EE each acquired 2x5 MHz blocks of 800 MHz spectrum. However, even at the time concerns were raised over the distribution of frequency bands and likely capacity restraints, since operators typically require at least 2x10 MHz blocks for LTE services. Both Telefónica's O2 UK and Vodafone gained 2x10 MHz blocks of 800 MHz spectrum and are planning to roll out commercial LTE services in the coming months.

3 UK has so far been building its LTE plan around the 2x15 MHz of 1800 MHz spectrum it bought from EE last year. Since the auction the Hutchison Whampoa-owned operator has been trying to work out how best to utilise its 800 MHz spectrum assets. "We have built our LTE planning around 1800 MHz," Dyson said. "800 MHz is another useful tool in the kit bag."

"The direction to the tech team was to start with a blank piece of paper and come back with the most efficient way to roll out the network," Mobile Today quoted Dyson as saying. "We have had a conversation with EE about pooling spectrum but we can't tell whether that will be the conclusion."

3 UK has already pledged that it will not charge a premium for its LTE services, unlike EE, which continues to believe that charging a premium for LTE services over 3G service is a good way to generate revenue from the high-speed services. 3 UK added that it has not seen an impact on its sales from LTE services, and reported that customers increased to 9.2 million at the end of the first quarter, up from 8.2 million a year earlier.

Separately, Deutsche Telekom this week said it values EE at £10 billion ($15.2 billion) and said a partial listing of the business was still the preferred option, according to Reuters. The German operator runs EE as a joint venture with France Telecom.

For more:
- see this Total Telecom article
- see this Mobile Today article
- see this CityAM article
- see this Reuters article

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