Virgin Mobile to offer LTE in the UK? – UPDATED with response from Virgin Media

Last week, Everything Everywhere, the company that owns T-Mobile and Orange really set the cat amongst the pigeons last week when it announced that it would be launching an LTE network in the UK by the end of the year. The service would be offered under a new brand, EE, and would launch in 16 cities, extending to more through 2013.

EE was able to do this after UK regulator Ofcom gave permission for it to refarm it’s spare 1800MHz spectrum for LTE, and since the T-Mobile, Orange merger, the company has found it had plenty of the 2G spectrum to play with, especially since more and more customers were exclusively using 3G. This would give it up to a year’s head start on its rivals O2 and Vodafone, who have to wait for Ofcom to auction off the digital dividend 800MHz and the 2.6GHz spectrum that has been set aside for LTE.

What’s more EE received a major boost when Apple announced that the iPhone 5 would support LTE1800 giving even more reason for customers to defect.

Now according to this source, Richard Branson’s Virgin Mobile, an MVNO that operates on For Vodafone and O2, losing out not only EE but to a budget focussed MVNO’s would be a major blow for their brands. (I’m waiting for comment from Virgin about this, but have yet to hear back).*

It would certainly be a great opportunity for Virgin Media to use bleeding edge technology to boost its brand image and encourage more people to take up its quad-play services. It would give it a leading-edge weapon in its market share battle with BSkyB, which offers triple-play TV, phone and broadband, but does not have a mobile offering. (It does offer a public wifi service, but recently stated that it does not intend to move into mobile).

The Hutchison owned 3 network has already bought some 1800MHz from Everything Everywhere, but it is not expected to have LTE ready until the middle of 2013.

Here’s hoping that the Virgin move for LTE does come through—it would be a boon for customers, as it would broaden their choices for LTE, and protect EE from accusations that it has a market monopoly. But if Vodafone and O2 were angry before, this will certainly have them positively fuming.

*Virgin Media has got back to me with the following statement.

“People are increasingly using smartphones, tablets and other connected devices to get online and 4G will play an important part in meeting the growing demand for wireless capacity. Launching 4G services this year promises to bring significant benefits to UK consumers as people begin to make the most of forthcoming superfast mobile connections.”

That of course gives nothing away, but reading between the lines it could mean – “watch this space”. Possibly.

Sylvain Thevenot, marketing director, Home, Everything Everywhere, UK is speaking at the Broadband World Forum 2012 taking place in THREE WEEKS on the 16 – 18 October 2012 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Click here now to register your interest.


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