Operators have started the new year with a range of 4G LTE announcements but, as always, the issue remains spectrum availability and licence fees.
At last Britain is holding 4G LTE spectrum auctions. Due to start on 23 January, the eventual winners will be announced in early March with deployments anticipated by mid-year.
The big three operators: EE, Vodafone and O2 plus 3UK will be joined by former incumbent BT, which currently has no mobile arm, MLL Telecom and PCCW.
The government said it expects to treble the reserve price of £1.3 billion established by regulator Ofcom, which will set new annual licence fees following the auction.
In Italy, TV broadcasters finally released the valuable 800MHz frequencies suitable for 4G LTE at the end of December giving Italian operators TIM, Vodafone Italy and Wind access to frequencies bought in 2011.
Voicing widespread irritation at delays, Filippo Rebecchini, Italy’s Radio Television Association chairman said: “First they should free up the spectrum, then sell it. You can get a lot more for a vacant house than for one with a tenant.”
Over in France, French operator SFR claimed the first launch of commercial consumer 4G LTE services: at the end of 2012 it deployed LTE services in Lyon and Montpellier; it has plans for four other cities early this year and aims to cover over 10 cities by late 2013.
It added that it would continue to spend €1.5 billion annually on updating its network because it remains “convinced that the quality and performance of the network are more than ever the difference”.
FT-Orange, which already offers commercial 4G LTE, and Bouygues plan consumer launches early this year.
Holland’s December auction awarded a total of 41 licences covering a number of frequencies to Vodafone, KPN, T-Mobile and Tele2.
Testing newly acquired spectrum, KPN will deploy 4G LTE throughout the country: starting in February it will reach around half the population by summer and nationally next year.
Vodafone Germany, meanwhile, aims to deliver 4G LTE to all cities by end March – accommodating the record numbers of new smartphone and 4G LTE enabled device users.
Mobile operators across the continent are under increasing pressure to deliver on network speeds and capacity as vendors link mobile devices to create the ‘internet of everything’.
A big year lies ahead.