Vodafone UK is examining ways of boosting the connection speed it can deliver over its 4G network to as much as 1 Gbit/s, Light Reading has learned.
"It's something we're looking into," a spokesperson said when asked if the UK's third-biggest mobile operator was interested in developing a gigabit-speed 4G offering.
Earlier this week, Vodafone UK rival and mobile market leader EE confirmed that it would conduct trials of 1Gbit/s 4G services in the first half of 2016, having first revealed details of its 1Gbit/s 4G plans at Light Reading's Gigabit Europe event in Munich earlier this month. (See EE Confirms 1Gbit/s 4G Trials in 2016.)
EE reckons it can dramatically improve the performance of its 4G network through a technique called carrier aggregation, whereby a number of spectrum channels -- sometimes from different frequency bands -- are lumped together.
The operator has already combined 20MHz carriers in each of the 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands to provide services of up to 150 Mbit/s to its 4G customers.
Paul Ceely, EE's head of network strategy, has also indicated that EE could make use of MIMO technology to provide higher-speed services. (See EE to Pilot 1Gbit/s 4G Service.)
Sometimes described as a "smart antenna" technology, MIMO boosts network capacity by adding antennas at the transmitter and receiver devices.
Vodafone would also be able to make use of MIMO, but it has far less spectrum at its disposal for use with carrier aggregation, as EE has been keen to point out.
"Having more sites and spectrum is one reason we are staying ahead of our competitors," said Swantee at a press briefing in London earlier this week.
Indeed, EE will have an even bigger spectrum advantage following its merger with fixed-line incumbent BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), which picked up 2.6GHz airwaves during the UK's 4G auction and received approval from the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for its £12.5 billion EE takeover earlier this week. (See Eurobites: BT-EE Deal Clears Another Hurdle, BT May Offer Sports on EE Devices – CEO and BT Locks Down £12.5B EE Takeover Deal.)
Vittorio Colao, the CEO of Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), had previously urged regulatory authorities to make BT and EE relinquish some of their spectrum holdings before allowing them to merge, but the CMA did not make its approval conditional on any such remedies.
"Consolidation makes sense so it's good they have approved it but a bit surprising there are no concessions," said Bengt Nordstrom, the CEO of consulting firm Northstream, during a conversation with Light Reading. "When you come with a verdict without any caveats it's hard to see them changing their minds."
Acquiring additional spectrum could help Vodafone to realize any 1Gbit/s plans, and regulatory authorities this week unveiled plans to conduct an auction of airwaves in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands early next year. (See Eurobites: UK to Free Up Public Sector Spectrum in 2016.)
But operators may have a hard time supporting such services in a commercial environment without more fiber infrastructure for backhaul purposes.
CityFibre , a small infrastructure rival to BT, is looking to provide fibre-to-the-tower (FTTT) services to UK mobile operators, and the merger between BT and EE could naturally persuade Vodafone to look for backhaul alternatives to BT. (See CityFibre Aims for BT's Wholesale Business.)
Interestingly, Vodafone signed a so-called "master services agreement" with CityFibre earlier this month that could pave the way to the rollout of such FTTT services in future. (See Eurobites: CityFibre Hooks Up With Vodafone.)
A lack of mobile devices able to support much higher-speed services may be another hurdle to operator plans.
Vodafone told Light Reading that it could not share more details of its 1Gbit/s intentions at this stage, but competing against EE on the speed of its mobile services would represent a change of tack for the company.
While EE has been trumpeting its current speed advantage over 4G rivals, Vodafone has focused instead on the content deals with the likes of Spotify and Sky Sports that form part of its 4G offering.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading