Telefonica's UK arm O2 has published results of its first LTE trials, but does not plan to deploy 4G commercially for some years. This will be a common pattern in many markets, but nonetheless, the UK government has announced plans to free up 500MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years.
Communications minister Ed Vaizey has outlined plans to release further frequencies after the upcoming auction of 2.6GHz and 800MHz licenses, expected next year despite a series of legal challenges. The public sector holds about half of the most valuable spectrum in the UK, says Vaizey's document, and he is committed to releasing 500MHz of that by 2021.
"This is a long term project to ensure industry is able to meet the growing demand for services that need spectrum," he said in a statement.
"The use of smartphones and mobile broadband is set to increase rapidly. Releasing more spectrum over the next decade will be essential if industry is to meet that growing demand. We must ensure the public sector uses this valuable resource as efficiently as possible. If the public sector does not need it, then it should be released so businesses can use it to grow."
The Ministry of Defence has already identified two bands, 2.3GHz and 3.5GHz, in which it can release 160MHz of spectrum. These bands (specifically 2310-2390MHz and 3400-3600MHz) are widely used round the world for TDD wireless broadband, especially for Wimax.
There is no indication yet as to whether the new spectrum will be earmarked only for mobile broadband or will remain usage neutral, nor whether it could be licensed or license exempt. It will almost certainly be technology neutral.
Second ranked UK cellco O2 says its trial of six LTE base stations was proving capable of handling the same volume of traffic usually managed by its entire UK 3G network. "That's six next-generation cells capable of doing the work of thousands of current generation cells. The scale is simply enormous," the company said in a corporate blog post.
The trial is running on Huawei kit around the operator's headquarters in Slough, west of London. The other publicly announced UK test is being conducted in west Wales by infrastructure owner Arqiva and Alcatel-Lucent, focusing on rural broadband.
O2's results are in test conditions of course, and the company is cautious about actual mass roll-out timescales, in common with many of its fellow European majors such as Vodafone. They are tending to stretch HSPA+ to its limits before committing significant funds to LTE, at least outside densely populated urban centers, even once they acquire new 4G-suitable spectrum.
"It's taken the best part of 10 years to get 3G from a concept to something that's available to the vast majority of the country. Even right now investment continues (to the tune of about £1m per day across the country) on the current 2G and 3G network, to improve performance and increase capacity," O2's blog post continued, indicating that it did not see LTE as an immediate option.