Virgin Mobile UK shocks rivals with LTE auction interest

Virgin Mobile UK has startled its rivals by announcing that the forthcoming U.K. LTE auction is a ‘critical part' of its future business.

According to Jamie Heywood, the director of mobile for Virgin Media, the company's interest in LTE is being driven by the growing use of mobile data by its customers.

He told Mobile Today: "We're seeing growth on mobile data of around 20-25 per cent per quarter, which is a number not unique to us. I think what we are also seeing is customers moving across the networks and taking advantage of what we see as the best 3G network. Going forward, it's our strategy to make sure we are supporting data growth in the tariffs we offer, the handsets and our network."

Asked about Virgin Mobile intent to acquire LTE spectrum along with the existing mobile operators, Heywood said, "We see ourselves as one of the biggest players in the data space. We are looking at the data spectrum as a critical part of that evolution."

Responding to the news, a U.K. operator told Mobile Today that it would be an upheaval if Virgin Mobile bid for the 800MHz band. "Virgin Mobile is not exactly a substandard player, but if they were looking to build a proper network, why not buy Three?"

Commenting on Virgin Mobile's interest in LTE, Ovum analyst Matthew Howett said it was more likely for any new entrant to acquire spectrum in the 2.6GHz band for use in some cities and business areas. "This spectrum is particularly good for capacity so it would suit someone interested in providing data intense services."

Separately, Virgin Media has started testing LTE in London using small-cell technology from Airspan Networks. The aim is to better understand the performance of LTE picocells in major city locations.

Kevin Baughan, director of wireless for Virgin Media, told Cellular News: "We want to put the power of our fibre optic network wherever people need it most, both inside and outside the home. Our technology trial in Oxford Street, one of London's busiest streets, proved the potential benefits of a small-cell solution and plugging into our network could help offer unrivalled capacity for mobile data services."

For more:
- see this Mobile Today article
- see this Cellular News article

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