O2, Vodafone tighten nuptials, look to drive UK 4G roll out forward ahead of schedule

The battle to claim ground in the 4G market continues to intensify, with news arriving today that two of the UK's leading mobile networks, O2 and Vodafone, will build on an existing agreement by operating and managing a single grid, an endeavour the two company's say will bring next generation connectivity to 98 per cent of Britain's population by 2017.

Approval from Ofcom is the only arrangement that needs to be pushed through before the deal can be finalised, with both Telefónica - O2's parent company - and Vodafone insisting they will maintain competition in regards to products and services, and bid independently in the forthcoming 4G auction. Control over the wireless spectrum, core networks, and customer data will also be maintained separately.

Telefoniocia UK CEO Ronan Dunne said: "This partnership is about working smarter as an industry, so that we can focus on what really matter - delivering a superfast network up to two years faster than Ofcom envisages, to as many people as possible. One grid...will mean greater efficiency, fewer site builds, broader coverage, and, crucially, investment in innovation."

Under the provisional banner of "one grid, two networks," the companies will share 18,500 masts. The partnership also endeavours to deliver 2G and 3G service to 98 per cent of the nation within the next three years.

The co-operative venture between the two parties eventually envisages a geographic split in regards to the design and maintenance of radio equipment and local transmission: Vodafone will take the reins in the west of the UK including Wales, with O2 assuming responsibility in the east of the nation and Northern Ireland.

Existing co-operative enterprise Everything Everywhere - a network share between Orange and T-Mobile - is thus far positioned as the O2/Vodafone partnership's main competition in the 4G roll out.

Business leaders are keen for next generation connectivity to descend immediately, saying British industry risks falling behind global markets due to existing subpar network efficency.