Ofcom facing an Everything Everywhere PR blitz ahead of 4G decision

Everything Everywhere has made it very clear they are ready to do 4G right now.

The fact that Ofcom has already tentatively given it approval to launch, and the Government is increasingly giving less and less subtle support to the venture summarises just how pissed off most of the UK tech industry are at what has really become an internationally embarrassing fiasco.

The UK’s 4G auction was meant to occur nearly 4 years ago, but has been hamstrung by endless lawsuits and delays which EE has managed to neatly sidestep with their proposal (see CBR’s story here).

Now EE’s PR team is ramping up one of the most aggressive (and unsubtle) assaults on public opinion regarding 4G the industry has seen since the 3G buzz a decade ago, designed to scare the bejesus out of Ofcom. Its also a preemptive smear on anyone who wants to stick their nose in to try and reverse this ‘tentative’ decision. Put simply, shut up and sit down – we’ve got work to get on with. Good sport to them.

Ofcom was due to make its decision on the matter on April 17, but it has now pushed this date back to May 8 after rivals cried foul and demanded more time to respond.

Just today EE has showcased a minister cutting the tape at its 4G testing up north, the past few weeks have seen the release two ‘independent’ reports, one concerning consumer demand for 4G, another concerning the damage to the economy. It has also launched 4GBritain, a website to raise awareness about the technology, which has partners including the Countryside Alliance, Huawei, National Farmer’s Union, Student Beans, thetrainline.com and Virgin Media, to name a few.

As an Ofcom spokesperson told CBR that it wants to get the process moving ‘as quickly and as efficiently as possible, without any further delay.’ EE is giving them a quiet push in the right direction.

This naturally has left the other giants, Vodafone and O2 fuming. Smaller player Three has also been a bit grumpy, and is probably the only other incumbent I feel sorry for. It is also worth remembering, that, post JV, Everything Everywhere – owner of T-Mobile and Orange – is the biggest mobile company in the UK.

Most of the time as a journalist I try and be as impartial as possible. On this score, I have to say I am absolutely sick and tired of following the incessant whinging and lawsuits from those who quite simply don’t want to spend any money on 4G.

If Everything Everywhere wants to do it, let them. I no longer care about ‘competitive market fairness’. The competitive market had four years to get itself organised. It didn’t. Monopolies (only short-term remember) be damned. The lack of 4G is costing the economy £1m per day.

Of course Vodafone and O2 want to launch their network sometime middling around next year. Later even perhaps?

That’s a whole year to build a network, safe and happy in their cabal-like business plain that is based around the fact that no one can launch first. No one really has much of a leg up, and they can all continue business as usual. They can quite safely migrate their existing customer base onto the next network in a relaxed fashion, a network probably cheaply built to the bare minimum 4G standards.

Marketing is much cheaper than upgrading infrastructure after all.

For example, there is still much debate as to whether much of the UK’s existing 3G infrastructure is even up to scratch. EDGE is not 3G. Nor are its variants. Anyone who’s been overseas and experienced superior 3G speeds and reliability will be able to testify to that – a legacy of the ridiculous bidding (£22bn) at the 3G spectrum auctions in 2001 which saw telcos more concerned with ROI than quality. I certainly hope we don’t see the kind of behaviour see in the US, where AT&T simply relabelled their 3G to 4G on iPhones to fool customers.

Mobile operators worldwide are also scared to death of OTT operators such as Google and Facebook stealing all the tasty revenues, leaving them as simple utility providers.

Everything Everywhere has announced that it is investing £1.5bn over three years, and wants to do 4G now. They are also rolling out networks of HSPA+ (3.5G) to supplement their proposal, and will probably launch this if Ofcom rejects its proposal. This is a company that is actually spending money, looks to have some drive and wants to move the sector to the next generation now.

Even if EE does produce an average-to-poor 4G network, it is built now, and begins the path to network maturity now. Our key economic rivals, such as the US is already down years in. Germany launched at the beginning of the year, and the South Koreans (as usual) are steaming ahead.

EE’s rivals appear to be more interested in stalling, recouping as much investment on 3G as they can, and generally slowing down technological progress at the expense of the rest of us, (and arguably the national economy) to suit their own shareholders.

If the Tories are serious about boosting the UK economy on the back of technology – here’s an ideal place to start.

The sad fact is, given the outcome of Ofcom’s decision, it may well be a dose of EE monopoly that wakes the sector up. Giving up a head start like that will surely cause EE’s rivals to invest heavily to develop a decent product ahead of their 2013 launches, if only to beat EE’s offering.

May 8th we’ll know.

 

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