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O2 and Vodafone Finalise UK Agreement to Share 5G Active Equipment

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019 (7:44 am) - Score 3,114
vodafone 5g antenna

Mobile operators O2 and Vodafone have today finalised a deal that will extend their existing joint 50:50 network sharing agreement to include 5G mobile active equipment, such as radio antennas, on shared network sites across the UK. But earlier proposals to deliver a “shared, future proof fibre” network have not materialised.

At present both operators already have a 50:50 network sharing agreement, which is managed by Cornerstone (formerly CTIL). The joint venture has been running since 2012 and manages the passive tower infrastructure for both operators, although it’s also known to work with over 12,000 individual landlords and most major property portfolio organisations.

The existing arrangement has helped both operators to generate efficiencies in cell site deployment and the operation of their network infrastructure (inc. cost savings). On top of that it also gives them a greater choice of locations and means they can strengthen the quality of their network coverage.

However, the existing deal still allows for plenty of differences between the operators’, such as in respect to spectrum use and performance. For example, Vodafone generally comes out as a much faster network for 4G based mobile broadband speeds than O2 in most of the studies we’ve seen (examples here, here and here). Coverage differences also exist (Vodafone reaches a little further).

NOTE: The large-scale 5G roll-out won’t happen until 2020 as operators will be cautious until Ofcom releases all of the spectrum (they can access 3.4GHz today but 700MHz and 3.6GHz – 3.8GHz etc. have yet to follow).

The 5G Extension

By extending this agreement to 5G the operators expect to reap some of the same benefits as before (cost savings etc.), while at the same time reducing their impact on the environment and reaching more people with ultrafast wireless broadband capable 5G services sooner than might have otherwise been possible.

Vodafone and O2 have also agreed to greater 5G network autonomy on approximately 2,700 sites in 23 of the United Kingdom’s larger cities, representing just over 16% of combined mast sites. This is in addition to London – previously announced in 2018 – bringing the total number of autonomous sites to 25%.

The extra autonomy gives both parties more flexibility to meet the needs of their customers and deploy future network technologies. At these sites, each party will install their own radio equipment, fibre optic “backhaul” connection (data capacity) and power supply, whilst continuing to limit the environmental impact by sharing the physical elements such as the mast.

Reading between the lines this is likely to mean that one party, which we suspect to be Vodafone given their current investment and new “unlimited” data usage plans, feels as if it’s putting more money into such areas and doesn’t want to give a competitor too much of a free ride. No doubt this will become clearer once 5G has built some better coverage and we’re able to see more representative benchmarks.

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said:

“We’re driving our 5G roll-out forward with this agreement, and taking our customers, our business and the whole of the UK with us. Greater autonomy in major cities will allow us to accelerate deployment, and together with active network sharing, ensures that our customers will get super-fast 5G in even more places more quickly, using fewer masts.

We can boost capacity where our customers need it most so they can take full advantage of our new unlimited plans. And it demonstrates our commitment to further invest in our multi-billion pound network in the years to come, helping the UK become a digital pioneer.”

Mark Evans, CEO of Telefónica UK, said:

“Today is an important step in demonstrating our commitment to invest for the future, with mobile connectivity one of the UK’s most powerful opportunities to strengthen the economy and improve the lives of British people. This agreement will enable us to roll-out 5G faster and more efficiently, benefiting customers while delivering value for our business. It also importantly allows us to utilise the spectrum we acquired in the last auction very effectively.”

Absent from today’s announcement was any clear mention of O2 and Vodafone’s prior proposal for delivering a “shared, future proof fibre” (fibre optic) transmission network. Both operators had said at the start of this year that they were “exploring options” around their future transmission operating model, which could drive synergies in the investment and operation of their end-to-end networks.

However both operators did vaguely confirm that they intended to “proceed to explore potential monetisation options for Cornerstone,” although this appears to reference their 50:50 jointly owned passive tower infrastructure and no mention of fibre is made. We have asked for an update on this and will report back when we get a response.

In fairness extending the mobile network sharing agreement to include fibre would be very complicated, not least due to differing supplier contracts and capacity allocations. Equally too much sharing could make it harder to differentiate between the operators. Mind you sharing mast infrastructure was a pretty significant leap in the first place and so a deal to include fibre is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

UPDATE 8:13am

Vodafone has informed ISPreview.co.uk that the possibility of sharing fibre is “still on the table” as they continue to explore circumstances in which transmission networks could be shared to drive further efficiencies.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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1 Response
  1. Avatar Lexx

    Unless O2 copy’s vodafone unlimited data plan seems more a one way agreement to me

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