We’re seeing a lot of competition between 4G network providers, and in fact we recently reported on a complaint that EE made about Three’s advertising of super-fast mobile internet. However, behind the scenes things seem to be a little more amicable as EE and Three have just announced a network sharing deal for the next phase of the 4G rollout.
A network sharing deal between EE and Three might seem unusual given the relative positions of the two networks. EE is the largest 4G provider, covering a large percentage of the UK population and charging a premium for the service. Three is currently the smallest provider, having only just begun its rollout, and is committed to providing 4G services for free. EE was the first network to provide 4G and has focussed on a fast rollout, while the Three campaign has been slow to get started.
However, this is not the first network sharing deal between the two networks. It is actually an extension of a former agreement between Three and T-Mobile, the business that merged with Orange to create the network we now know as EE.
Between them EE and Three have pledged to invest a further one billion pounds in their network infrastructure as part of the agreement. This is expected to result in an accelerated roll out of 4G across the UK, as well as reduced costs for the individual networks.
Impact of the 4G Infrastructure Agreement
The agreement covers the sharing of costs in building the basic 4G infrastructure. This includes:
- The telecom mast infrastructure
- Transmission costs between the mast and national networks
However there are many aspects that won’t be shared and these will allow scope for differences in 4G quality and coverage, and will ensure that the two networks remain in competition with one another. Their core networks will remain separate, and they will use different antennas and spectrum. In fact EE sees the agreement as a chance to create a greater separation between the two networks.
It appears that the agreement will have little impact on the approach that the two networks are taking to 4G. EE will still be focused on a rapid expansion, with the network expected to provide 4G coverage to around 70% of the UK population this month.
Despite the fact that Three customers in a number of major cities are now reporting 4G coverage, and the fact that all Three customers will be upgraded to a 4G contract by the end of the quarter whether they have coverage or not, the smaller network is still being conservative in its 4G plans. It believes that a slower roll-out will reap rewards in the long run, with David Dyson, the CEO of Three, stating that, “Beyond two years, apps and services will develop to make 4G more relevant. Right now, a 3G network can provide most of the service for most customers.”
Whichever network benefits the most from the network sharing agreement, the bottom line is that a one billion pound investment in infrastructure can only be good news for 4G services in the UK.