The UK lags some way behind the United States and many parts of developed Western Europe when it comes to modern digital infrastructure. That’s particularly true for the adoption of high speed internet and the roll out of the 4G spectrum. Unfortunately whilst the UK languishes in the digital slow lane, our nearest neighbours are forging ahead and their businesses are making significant headway at Britain’s expense. But who’s to blame for the delay? Why are we still lagging behind when all interested parties know that a speedy conclusion to this problem is of the essence? Well, according to the new CEO of Everything Everywhere, Olaf Swantee, it’s the lawyers that are the problem.
Mr Swantee, who is in charge of the UK’s largest amalgamated mobile network – combining Orange and T-Mobile, told the BBC that in his opinion Britain’s mobile network operators are too trigger-happy when it comes to using the lawyers. Litigation should be used sparingly, and only to drive the widespread adoption of a modern mobile technology, but instead he believes the networks are using it as a blunt and regressive instrument. The irony, which isn’t lost on the Dutch boss, is that it was part of his own company, T-Mobile, which started the litigation ball rolling back in 2008.
So what does Everything Everywhere want? What concessions is EE looking for? Mr Swantee wants to drive the agenda forward and put pressure on Ofcom to bring forward the date of the release of 4G technology. To that end EE is prepared to invest £1.5 billion of its own money on improving its fundamental digital infrastructure. Unfortunately Ofcom is not prepared to be pushed on the 4G Britain Campaign issue. The auction of the spectrum for 4G, mostly from the dividend from the digital switchover, has been delayed until the end of this year principally because of litigation. Any movement on the 4G is unlikely until next year. On that issue, Ofcom is not prepared to budge.
So, if Ofcom remains firm in its resolve, why is EE pushing this agenda? Well according to rival networks, it’s because Everything Everywhere is currently awaiting a ruling from Ofcom on whether it can use some existing spectrum to bring in a 4G service early. There’s been talk of legal action if the regulator waves that through – so no wonder Mr Swantee wants everyone to hold hands and sing from the same hymn sheet about the future of 4G. However, in mobile market which is one of the most competitive in the world, it may be a little optimistic to expect peace to break out and lawyers to be put out of work.