Britain's Bloomin' LTE

7:40 AM -- Spring is in the air in the U.K. and so is the promise of earlier-than-expected Long Term Evolution (LTE) after regulator Ofcom said it will probably allow EE to use existing spectrum to roll out next-generation mobile broadband services.

The decision means that largest U.K. operator (by subscribers, more than 27 million of them) could launch LTE as soon as this year, well ahead of its rivals Three UK , Telefónica UK Ltd. (O2 UK) and Vodafone UK and in advance of the LTE spectrum auction planned for the end of 2012.

But how will Everything Everywhere -- the joint venture of Orange UK and T-Mobile (UK) -- jump the gun? Well, it applied to Ofcom to use its existing 1800MHz spectrum for LTE. The regulator's preliminary conclusion is that it's fine with them, but Ofcom also launched a short, five-week consultation on the matter. So there's still a chance for the other mobile operators to challenge the proposal.

Ofcom is keenly aware of how years of delay to its LTE spectrum auction has made the U.K. fall behind other European countries, so it's natural that it would back Everything Everywhere's plan, which could see LTE services launched sooner. (See Euronews: Ofcom Slams Obstructive UK Operators and Europe Set for LTE Laggard Status.)

Ofcom's current LTE auction plan, which will release a large chunk of new spectrum in the 2.6GHz and 800MHz bands, is in yet another consultation phase. The regulator hopes to issue its final conclusions about the auction this summer.

But even if the auction for new spectrum goes ahead as planned at the end of this year, operators won't be able to use the new frequencies until late 2013 because the 2.6GHz band has interference issues with air and nautical radar systems that need to be resolved and the public broadcasters need to be cleared out of the 800MHz band.

In the meantime, amidst all this spectrum and legal wrangling, a small upstart, UK Broadband Ltd. , has dusted down its WiMax 3.5GHz spectrum and set up a Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) network in parts of London and expects to launch an LTE wholesale service in May.

The LTE green shoots are showing in Britain, but the U.K. isn't quite ready to shed its LTE laggard status yet.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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