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EE Mobile Seeks to Trade Some 2.6GHz 4G Spectrum to O2 UK UPDATE

Friday, October 16th, 2020 (11:28 am) - Score 11,304

Mobile operator EE (BT) has today requested approval from Ofcom for them to trade some of their 4G (mobile broadband) friendly unpaired radio spectrum in the 2.6GHz band (between 2595-2620MHz) to rival O2 (Telefonica UK). At present neither O2 nor Three UK own any of their own spectrum in the 2.6GHz band.

Currently, EE holds about 100MHz of paired and 15MHz of unpaired spectrum in the 2.6GHz band, which is ideal for offering faster 4G based broadband speeds in urban areas. By comparison Vodafone only holds 40MHz of paired and 20MHz of unpaired spectrum in the same band, while Three UK and O2 have none.

Ofcom said that their “initial view” of the proposed trade is that “there would be a low risk of competition concerns” and as such they’re minded to approve it. Nevertheless, the regulator has opened the request up for consultation until 30th October 2020.

Sadly, we aren’t told precisely why EE are proposing to make this trade now, although we have asked the operator for a comment and will report back when they respond. On top of that it will be interesting to consider whether or not this will have any impact upon Ofcom’s forthcoming auction of spectrum in the 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz bands (mostly for 5G).

The regulator is applying a 37% (416MHz) cap, which reflects the overall spectrum that any one mobile company can hold following the auction. The cap effectively limits the spectrum that some operators can acquire in the award. In other words, BT will be limited to acquiring up to 120MHz, while Three UK can only acquire 185MHz, Vodafone may only grab 190MHz and no limits will be imposed upon O2.

Suffice to say that by trading away some of their 2.6GHz band BT (EE) might have more flexibility to gobble up a slightly bigger slice of a different band in the forthcoming auction.

UPDATE 1:47pm

We’ve been informed by EE that they weren’t making active use of the spectrum.

A Spokesperson for EE told ISPreview.co.uk:

“This spectrum is less optimal for use given our other spectrum holdings, we have decided to prioritise our network investments in other spectrum bands as these provided a better option to deliver the capacity that’s required in our network.”

Leave a Comment
23 Responses
  1. Avatar JAH says:

    I know this probably sounds stupid (as I know nothing about the technicalities), but wouldn’t it be good if they could all use the same full range of frequencies and share masts but then just digitally tag the traffic and route to the appropriate provider. Seems very limiting having to carve-up the frequencies purely based on the highest bidder. Like I said though, I know nothing.

    1. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

      So Three could pay £10m for spectrum and EE could pay £50m but three still gets to have same performance as EE… hardly fair?

    2. Avatar freddie says:

      It’s a good idea JAH but wouldn’t be viable. EE spend the most and often charge the most – The network is good in most areas. They also power a few Mobile Virtual Networks like EE and Idmobile – they have the most in fact so need to keep investing

    3. Avatar GalaxyAsh says:

      As some have already said, EE and Vodafone invest heavily in their network, where as O2 and Three, don’t. While they are all usable in many places, the difference in overall performance of EE and Vodafone vs O2 and Three is noticeable. Not to mention the difference in network quality is good for iindustry competition. Although EE/Three and O2/Vodafone already share radios, and O2/Vodafone have invested in Open-RAN. Plus the SRN initiative is on its way, which isn’t exactly what you said, but is similar, in Rural areas at least, for now. Hutchinson ( H3G/Three ) make networking equipment too, their most popular being the Hutchinson Jupiter Monopole, I would say. I know this is old, I don’t expect a response, I just came across it and wanted to add to it.

  2. Avatar Sunil Sood says:

    What are EE getting in return for the spectrum they plan to trade?

    1. Avatar Anonymous says:


  3. Avatar DrFunk says:

    @JitteryPinger I don’t think that is what JAH is suggesting. If all operators had equal access to the same spectrum they would all have to pay an equal amount, obviously. The problem, of course, is that spectrum has already been bought and paid for and the mechanism by which spectrum is currently allocated requires an auction and multiple bidders.

    But I think the idea has some merit, in principle, it would maximise and optimise use of all the available spectrum. But in order for it to work you’d need a single (probably nationalised) physical cellular network provider, much like network rail builds and operates the rail network and train operators are charged a fee for using said network, or like the way BT wholesales their network to ISPs.

    1. Avatar JAH says:


    2. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      I’ll be the first to back a nationalised cellular network! They could call it British T…..oh never mind.

    3. Avatar CJ says:

      Because our A-road and rail networks get all the investment they ever wanted and reach everyone in the final 5% and are the envy of the world, so we should use the same model for telecoms?

      Please, anything but a nationalised monopoly telecoms provider. I can only assume those who call for this are not old enough to remember what it’s actually like to have one. Good luck with your connection when the communication workers decide to go on strike because they know you have no alternative provider.

    4. Avatar DrFunk says:

      @CJ I’m well old enough to remember nationalised industries. You could quite easily argue that privatisation has hardly been the panacea for all nationalised industry’s ills. The rail network had to be handed back into government hands precisely because privatisation failed, abysmally, and network rail does a far better job than was ever the case under private ownership. As for reaching the final 5% why do think BDUK was needed and where exactly do think the money that paid for it came from? Certainly not from the private sector that’s for sure.

  4. Avatar Mike says:

    In most areas EE doesn’t utilise 2.6ghz so it’s understandable why they’d sell it off and then buy more 5G spectrum instead.

    1. Avatar Anonymous says:

      EE have thousands of 2.6GHz sites. They don’t use 2595-2620MHz however

    2. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

      Have to disagree here, pretty much all urban areas are covered by Band 7, I also see it still developing too so won’t surprise me in a few years if it was to become a norm nationwide.

      However a lot of non-urban or rural area’s won’t get it simply because of EE’s already existing 2×2 Band 3 configuration which is already operating at very good speeds and coverage and is more than enough for the locations in which only it is deployed.

      Mast configs for EE where I am tend to be configured in 2×2 for Band 7, and 2×2 for Band 3 and Band 20 and now Band 1 also starting to join the mix.

    3. Avatar Mike says:

      I suppose it’s all well and good if your city based, just sucks if your not/travel around a lot.

    4. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

      I guess but I’ve done that with EE and never had issues with comms when travelling (ie. Motorways)

      Motorways won’t features band 7 in many places apart from M25 but considering your passing through a cell within a minute or two not really an issue and Band 3 more than capable.

  5. Avatar freddie says:

    Good I just sacked off O2 mid contract as all I could get at home was 1-2mbps and I was only able to use 1.5-2 of the 120GB a month they offered

  6. Avatar TheTruth says:

    Do O2 actually need more 4G spectrum? I think not, seems like they are stupidly helping EE get more 5G spectrum.

    1. Avatar Santi says:

      Well “The truth” is thay have the largest number of users on their network and least amount of spectrum in the UK,catheter consistently rate the slowest network (although consistent and dependable). And this was before adding unlimited data, which only makes things worse. Extra bandwidth will allow more capacity in cities, and EE buy more spectrum without hitting the cap. It’s a win win.

    2. Avatar Anonymous says:

      Nothing to say O2 will be using it for 4G

    3. Avatar JitteryPinger says:

      I suppose O2 don’t need the spectrum, but pretty sure Virgin Media will want it.

      However I guess if it can be harnessed for 5G use then its valuable bit of spectrum to have, however maybe not enough for use on 5G band.

  7. Avatar Al Digger says:

    On another subject,for a philistine on tachno stuff are any of the broadband boosters on the market any
    Good or a waste of money .L

  8. Avatar Fkhan says:

    We are missing the point EE is rubbish indoors and O2 is best they have low frequency band which penetrate well through walls

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