4G rollout fast tracked after O2, Vodafone settle differences

The UK’s 4G network rollout is set to take place ahead of schedule with O2 and Vodafone ready to upgrade their services by spring 2013, six months earlier than planned.

The news comes after the two operators held talks with telecoms regulator Ofcom and Culture Secretary Maria Miller yesterday, and the meeting brought an agreement to implement the high-speed mobile services as soon as possible.

With rival firm EE securing permission to switch on its 4G network before its competitors this year, it had been feared legal action from O2 and Vodafone may have delayed the entire process. But the companies have agreed to settle their differences and press ahead with their own spectrum upgrades, while EE prepares an imminent formal launch.

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said, “The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services.”

Preceding the spring rollout will be the much delayed 4G auction overseen by Ofcom, when O2 and Vodafone will compete for the remaining bands of the UK’s spectrum. The two firms hope an agreement announced this week that pools the network infrastructure of each operator so they share one giant grid will lay the foundations for a challenge to EE’s service.

But EE’s head start will nevertheless be significant, and indeed, the firm has started selling its first 4G LTE devices today. The Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE, HTC One XL and Huawei Ascend P1 LTE will have to be bought on 3G price plans first, before switching over when 4G becomes available in the coming weeks.

The newly-released 5.5in Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has also been added to the list of phones compatible with EE’s 4G network, with the firm selling the device from 15 October.