back to article O2 wolfs down entire 4G spectrum as pals fiddle with their shiny 5G band

UK mobile operators have collectively forked out £1.3bn on boosting spectrum following regulator Ofcom's latest auction. O2's owner Telefónica splurged the most, shelling out £205m for all 40MHz of 2.3GHz spectrum, which will be immediately available for 4G services; and £317m on 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum, key to the rollout of …

  1. Adam Jarvis

    As always...

    No mention of the UK's (pretty much) non existent UK fibre backhaul infrastructure required to connect all these new 4G/5G masts (mounted on street lights etc) especially in difficult landscape topologies/more rural locations of the UK i.e. Scotland/Wales.

    4G/5G ubiquitous high speed data streaming on the move is an Ofcom fairytale until we have a proper "connected" strategy regards the rollout of a ubiquitous fibre backhaul throughout the UK.

    You can't have one (high speed 5G data services) without the other (fibre backhaul), yet these articles always fail to mention the fibre backhaul requirements of any 4G/5G rollout.

    Rattling my BT 'copper tin', Sharon White/Ofcom "Where is the all this (dark) fibre to support all this new mobile spectrum?"

  2. Greg D

    Re: As always...

    Yup. Moved into a new build recently in a town with about 6,000 other homes and no fibre at ALL. Not even ADSL2+!! How can 5G work here?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: As always...

    When our street was cabled in Harrow (1993) the new build housing estate a mile away (so new the roads weren't laid when my friend moved in) were told it would be 5 years before they got cable.

    They're still waiting.

    Meanwhile, due to fuck-knows-how, I'm rocking a 100 MBps (because it's the basic entry-level connection from Virgin on fibre) in the arse end of Birmingham where you could buy a street for the cost of one Harrow house.

  4. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Re: As always...

    You mean 100Mbps surely?

  5. Commswonk Silver badge

    Re: As always...

    Sharon White/Ofcom "Where is the all this (dark) fibre to support all this new mobile spectrum?"

    Oh dear... how is Sharon White (or anyone else) to know where the fibre needs to run to, and in what quantity until the MNOs draw up their plans and place orders?

    And if she (or anyone else) said to fibre installers "JFDI" their response would - quite reasonably - be "who is going to pay for this?"

    It is, or will be, the MNOs problem to decide what network connections they require, and then to order and pay for them, either up front or via a negotiated long term lease.

    Or are you expecting the taxpayer to fund a semi - speculative network in the hope that the MNOs will eventually pay enough to cover the costs?

    And rural locations are generally short of street lights anyway.

  6. Keith Oborn

    Re: As always...

    Cables get laid preferentially in areas of high housing density - more potential customers. That tends to mean that lower income areas are better served. It's better business to lay a mile of cable that passes 100 terraced houses than one that passes 10 large detached one.

  7. wolfetone Silver badge

    Re: As always...

    "No mention of the UK's (pretty much) non existent UK fibre backhaul infrastructure required to connect all these new 4G/5G masts (mounted on street lights etc) especially in difficult landscape topologies/more rural locations of the UK i.e. Scotland/Wales."

    Why would they mention that? Ofcom is London based, so it doesn't matter to them if Farmer Joe doesn't get reception while tending his flock.

  8. JimboSmith Silver badge

    Re: As always...

    Meanwhile, due to fuck-knows-how, I'm rocking a 100 MBps (because it's the basic entry-level connection from Virgin on fibre) in the arse end of Birmingham where you could buy a street for the cost of one Harrow house.

    At my parents house out in the rural Cotswolds getting a mobile signal indoors (even 2G) on any network is very unlikely. I'm sure they'll improve things when they get all this lovely spectrum though. However their village has been fibred up with FTTP available for everyone. I won't name the company but they must have spent a bit doing that. There may of course have been some subsidy or other to soften the blow. A sales rep came to the door and spoke to my mum before Easter about the service. I was there but as it's not my house I decided I wasn't going to speak to her. The rep checked to see if they'd noticed the (vast) amount of work that had been going on to make this possible. They certainly had as it had been going on for a while and required digging up the road in one or two places as well as the verge.

    The next questions were about whether they noticed many problems with their existing broadband. The rep wanted to know:

    Sales rep: Do you have problems with the speeds on your current copper based broadband?

    Mum: I don't think so everything loads quite quickly

    Sales rep: Do you suffer much from buffering?

    Mum: is that the same as buffeting because if so only when it's windy

    Sales rep: Er no it isn't

    Mum: Oh then I don't think so as I don't know what it means.

    Sales rep: Do you get pauses when watching tv online or videos on demand

    Mum: No we watch TV on the Television that's what it's for and not the computer. We can pause the videos of our grandchildren on Whatsapp though.

    Sales rep: Do you do much on-line gaming?

    (this is to someone who is north of 70 so whilst not impossible, fairly unlikely she's up with a headset on gamepad/mouse in hand till all hours)

    Mum: Well I play Sudoku and Solitaire on my phone

    Sales rep: Well You might be interested in our fibre broadband packages which start from as little as £40 and can give you speeds of 50Mbps

    Mum: Is that good?

    Sales rep: It's very competitive at that price and we can go up to 1Gbps for a bit more

    Mum: Do I need that to online shop?

    Sales rep: You can also get your phoneline and number ported over to our VOIP partner

    Mum: What's VOIP is that anything to do with a mobile signal because we don't get a very good signal here.

    Sales rep: No it's through your broadband connection and is only around £8 a month.

    Mum: Will the burglar alarm work on that too especially when the power has gone out.

    Sales rep: Erm I don't think so

    Mum: Oh well then we'd need to keep the BT line too.

    Sales rep: Maybe I can just leave you with some literature and my card and if you'd like to go ahead let me know.

    Mum: That's fine,

    Sales rep: Bye... (almost running up the drive to escape the luddite OAP)

    Afterwards we looked at the costs of this service which came in as follows:

    All the installation and one off fees came to £420. Higher cost because the house is more than 10m from the connection point and it will require a lot of internal cabling etc.

    The cost of the service would be £615 over the life of the contract with another £100 if they took the VOIP.

    So that's £1135 plus the cost of the burglar alarm land line. They both looked at it carefully for a few seconds before deciding they'd rather spend the money on something else.

  9. katrinab Silver badge

    Re: As always...

    But they still expect Farmer Jo to file her tax returns and rural payments agency stuff online.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Commswonk Silver badge

    And Another Thing...

    @ Adam Jarvis:4G/5G ubiquitous high speed data streaming on the move is an Ofcom fairytale until we have a proper "connected" strategy regards the rollout of a ubiquitous fibre backhaul throughout the UK.

    You can't have one (high speed 5G data services) without the other (fibre backhaul), yet these articles always fail to mention the fibre backhaul requirements of any 4G/5G rollout.

    Assuming those assertions to be correct, the capital cost of setting up 5G coverage is going to be immense; think of all those picocells needing fibre connectivity back to "Deep Thought".

    High capital cost results in high revenue costs to end - users, i.e. the paying customers. Can the MNOs be utterly certain that customers are going to be willing to stump up every month at the level that will be necessary to achieve the ROI? Or are the customers going to decide that what they can achieve with 5G is not sufficiently essential for the additional cost to be worth it?

    Or are the MNOs going to force eveyone's hand by shutting down legacy systems?

    If the perennial tales of woe about the GBP (not ££!) being under financial pressure are true then 5G investment might not be the wisest idea, because the returns might not materialise.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My mom + BT competitor offering real/pure/full fibre solution "door to door".

    You should really go and work for BT Marketing Dept. (Maybe you do, certainly sounds like it).

    It was exactly the same protective "negative-sit on hands" (The BT drunk blocking the pub doorway) BT "ISDN/dial up is good enough" marketing spiel 17 years ago, when BT went around trying to get customers locked into long contracts on their older ISDN products as ADSL was launching.

    BT went 'overdrive' to advertise 128Kbps ISDN Home Highway products with en-masse door to door leafleting, "it's good enough, please keep using our green legacy copper carcass" (or words to that effect) to extend the lifeline of ISDN/Home Highway as long as they could, while at the same time another part of BT were starting to quietly roll out cheaper 500Kbps "Green Frog" ADSL in Edinburgh from Fountainbridge, to those in the know.

    With BT its always "Appreciate the few copper crumbs we give you, we own this market, don't try to say different", yours BT.

    BT came across as negative, defensive/protective of their copper carcass, predatory, and obfuscated the shit out of Home Highway, to make it sound like what you were getting was 500Kbps ADSL in those leaflets at the time, when it wasn't, exactly as now, regards VDSL/G.fast v pure/full Fibre optic rollout.

    BT (to me) is still the same company 17 years on "sit on hands - wait for handouts", acting like vultures protecting their legacy copper carcass, obfuscating the shit out of vapourware delay tactic technologies like Pointless G.fast to squeeze "sweat" every last ounce out of their copper network, until technically clueless people realise it doesn't have to be like this, with congested, crappy slow networks at peak hours (even when Ofcom's own speed checker* shows your line to an absolute perfect bed of roses). The Technology has moved on from copper.

    Pointless G.fast is certainly vapourware if you live rurally, yet BT again, have promoted this as their ultrafast solution over the last 4 years until word finally gets out it isn't.

    And all this goes on, with the backing of narcissitic weasels Ofcom (because quite a few of them used to work BT, and inevitably get parachuted into key jobs at Ofcom), so Ofcom ends up being "pro/defensive towards BT".

    We need to stop looking at Italy for corruption, and look a bit closer to home and remove all those links inside the regulator Ofcom back to BT.

    *https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/

  13. Wayland Bronze badge

    Re: As always...

    "You mean 100Mbps surely?"

    In villages surrounding Ongar Essex they have bugger all ADSL but 40Mbps WISP and 1Gbps fibre to the homes buried a few inches in the ditches and under hedges. The one I tested only did 150mbps and the support man on the phone was disappointed since they normally get at least 700mbps there.

  14. Wayland Bronze badge

    Re: As always...

    "And rural locations are generally short of street lights anyway."

    And long of trees.

    Wonder why they are chopping down trees in Sheffield?

    Trees are taller than street lights so in order to make GHz signals work you either have to raise the antennas or lower the trees.

  15. Wayland Bronze badge

    Re: My mom + BT competitor offering real/pure/full fibre solution "door to door".

    "We need to stop looking at Italy for corruption, and look a bit closer to home and remove all those links inside the regulator Ofcom back to BT."

    Yes BT are corrupt and protect their own business at the expense of their customers needs.

    When running a WISP in 2003 we applied to EEDA (East of England Development Agency) via their Broadband NOW campaign to get our service funded for various villages. The rule was EEDA would only fund areas of "market failure" which translated means areas BT were not going to install ADSL. The amazing thing was that when ever anyone proposed an area to EEDA then BT would suddenly put this area on their list for ADSL rollout meaning no funding for us.

    The result was to stifle competition at the expense of the customers. Nice one BT.

    Frankly this 5G stuff is BS. It does nothing that can't be done with existing WiFi a lot better. All that's needed is an improved public WiFi protocol added to home routers for mobiles to use. The Internet use can be separated from the home owners Internet use.

    BT have sort of got this with their FON network but it needs to be more transparent to the mobile phones to use and public.

  16. Snar

    Bastard Telecom and Ofcom

    BT are quite possibly my most hated company. It gets me how they can peddle more and more junk technology that increasing doesn't work and to the detriment of the EM spectrum while giving it to Ofcom up the arse like the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

    BT whine about the use of "Up to xMbps" which is a phrase that they coined because DSL just happens to be a crap, non-deterministic technical abortion stymied by the laws of physics. They can wrap a turd in gilt terms such as G.fast, but it is still a turd. And don't get me started on PLT - Ofcom clearly like having a prolapsed ringpiece.

    How the fcuk can a company as big as BT get away with peddling an DSL based service as "superfast fibre"?

    As an experiment I thought I'd have a look at what shiny bollocks BT are now peddling. Wow! super duper 100Mbps guaranteed - And if it doesn't work, you can claim a refund of £20!...up to 4 times a year...and it's actually a gift card rather than dolly.

    So living in a fairly residential area I just thought I'd see if BT could offer me this special service and how much - Not available in your area, but "You can still get speeds of UP TO 55Mbps" - Good old crappy DSL to the rescue.

    I'm pretty fortunate in that we do have Virgin in the area who provide me with a nice 350Mbps down / 20Mbps up connection and during the 20 years I've been a customer I've seen my speeds increase from 1Mbps to my current speed which has been consistently delivered with very few days outage.

    To my mind, BT should not have been allowed to continue to use the POTS wiring to deliver broadband services as they were neither designed for the job or are capable of delivering the services demanded of them. BT's reliance on flogging a dead horse into a pulp and it's reluctance in investing in a decent TTH infrastructure has in my mind been bad for the general UK domestic customer base. Now they seem to be under pressure to do something, they are probably 20 years behind their closest competitor in technology. I hope the whole company goes titsup.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Bastard Telecom and Ofcom

    bored

  18. SamX

    Re: As always...

    @JimboSmith: Sure, it is a tad higher cost. But, I'd say that the SalesRep did not have the knowledge (or pretend to be unaware) of what's possible. Basically, with FTTP, you pay for the broadband only for the provider which is £40 (still a bit high). You can have an almost free VOIP phone (as many independent lines as you want) even with a free incoming number (eg, SipGate). I don't work for them BTW.

    And, you can have a good mobile signal at home indoors through your broadband. There are some cheap devices that the providers offer or you can use an App through WiFi.

    I am on FTTP now. BT is a bit expensive but their other company Plusnet offers a cheap trial. No phone line but have a couple of VOIP phones.

  19. DazS

    Re: As always...

    Ah yes. And of course it's much better business to just provide superfast broadband to households to watch netflix than bother going anywhere near industrial zones or business parks. After all, the businesses there can all easily afford to have FTTP installed, one at time. Mmm. £500 a month or £50 a month income for the telco's per customer? Mmmm.

  20. Nano nano

    Empire

    Goodness, do[es] the UK / UK companies own *any* of its infrastructure these days .... thought O2 was BT at one point ...

  21. Commswonk Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    Somewhere between "not much" and "no".

    O2 was BT, but that's a very long time ago. A very long time.

  22. adam payne Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    O2 was BT Cellnet and Cellnet before that.

  23. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    No. And O2 own less than you think. Their network is outsourced. Their customer services is outsourced. Not much left really.

  24. Oor Nonny-Muss

    Re: Empire

    BT own less of theirs than you think too - all of those lovely VDSL2 cabinets are owned and operated by Huawei... under contract to BT.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Empire

    That's an interesting little snippet, any proof to back that up?

  26. Ian Emery Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    Actually, BT run VDSL equipment from TWO different suppliers; although TBF Huawei's has proven itself to be much more reliable.

    And AFAIK, it is bought in, not contracted out.

  27. robidy

    Re: Empire

    Did Huawei borrow Cisco source code...complete with typos...Trump maybe made but dealing with Chinese interlectual property theft is an admirable aspiration.

  28. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    Whilst we're at it, might as well mention that those lovely phone lines that Virgin give you despite not wanting? All run by BT.

  29. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    It's what government types mean when they say "the UK is open for business."

  30. phuzz Silver badge

    Re: Empire

    Always ironic watching Americans getting upset about other countries copying things. Who cares about history anyway?

  31. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    "We're pleased with our 5G holdings, which is the most important thing for giving customers what they want on their mobiles."

    I can't say I especially want 5G. What I want is availability of the current 4G services (or, in some places I have visited, even a 3G service).

    I really wish mobile networks would finish the job properly with implementation of existing technologies before moving on to new ones.

  32. Gio Ciampa

    "I really wish mobile networks would finish the job properly..."

    Oh no... can't be having that... how else will HMGov get its fix of easy cash every couple of years (when there aren't any public services to sell off on the cheap)?

    I'll wager though that after the £23 billion they got for 3G, the mobile operators have gotten wise to this...

  33. J J Carter Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Pipe panic

    Here at GCHQ, we're sorry we have to limit everyone's internet bandwidth, but there's a limit on how many Tbps we can slurp down our pipe (Oh, matron!).

  34. Stuart 22

    Bully for O2 - and me?

    Possibly good news for me. Around here (in inner London) O2 4G is non-existent which means my renewal options are limited to EE & Three - given Voda's current reputation.

    Its not just O2 - most of the more attractive MVNOs piggy back O2 so I look forward to much more choice in 2019 - if they can rolll it out that fast.

  35. hairydog

    Re: Bully for O2 - and me?

    I think the most attractive virtuals piggyback EE, unless you are only interested in data. And in my experience, O2 data is sloooow much of the time, so it isn't a great deal at any price

  36. Roland6 Silver badge

    All money raised from the auction to be paid to HM Treasury.

    Ofcom caught napping again or Sharon is no match to 11 Downing Street?

    It would have been sensible for the monies to be dropped in the USO digital infrastructure investment pot...

  37. Mike Pellatt

    Re: All money raised from the auction to be paid to HM Treasury.

    Can you say "UK Gov doesn't do hypothecation" ??

    I knew you could.

  38. Ramlen

    Airspan Spectrum Holdings Limited, the US small cells company, had not won spectrum in either band.

    Bit of an over ambitious company name then...

  39. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Cheap at the price

    Compared to the 3g auctions, these sums look pretty modest.

    So I guess the telcos won't have losses to offset several years of tax out of this. Though the one domiciled in the UK (and therefore most visible) will no doubt continue to attract protestors.

  40. katrinab Silver badge

    Re: Cheap at the price

    EE and Vodafone are both domiciled in the UK these days.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Cheap at the price

    I don't understand how Vodafone are even still in business in the UK? Do they have millions of business customers paying idiotic amounts or something?

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Cheap at the price

    "Do they have millions of business customers paying idiotic amounts or something?"

    Have had for years.

    Vodafone also have an interesting and longstanding policy on tax efficiencies. You've heard of 'revolving doors', right? And 'networking', and 'tunneling'? Well for a long time there's been a network tunnel between HMRC and Vodafone, but it's one way rather than two way: senior HMRC officials dealing with corporate tax get very senior jobs at or near Vodafone dealing with corporate tax.

    E.g. top taxman Dave Hartnett moved from HMG to Deloitte (Vodafone's favourite tax-prevention outfit) in 2013, several years previously (2007) John Connors had moved directly from HMRC to Vodafone's top in-house tax-prevention job.

    Nice work if you can get it.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Signal/Bandwidth is not the issue

    There's hardly anywhere near me, in the green fields of the East Midlands, where I can't get O2 signal.

    Go me, eh?

    But even with 3-4 bars, progress is slow and stuttery. I'm assuming because the number of people connected to a mast streaming videos and music is overwhelming the cable or microwave connection onwards from that mast to the network. Go to any event, whether it's a huge music festival or a smaller gathering, and you quite often get "perfect" 4G signal and "sod all" data.

  44. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Re: Signal/Bandwidth is not the issue

    "Go to any event, whether it's a huge music festival or a smaller gathering, and you quite often get "perfect" 4G signal and "sod all" data."

    Ditto when my job takes me onto a university campus, or a major town centres, especially at lunchtime. Most people seem to be using data constantly these days with Facebook and the like constantly updating or talking to the mothership. It's not that a lot of people are streaming at certain times or places, it's just *everyone* is constantly sipping data so once you reach a critical mass, it all grinds to a halt.

  45. Philippe

    Re: Signal/Bandwidth is not the issue

    My favourite is trying to use an EE phone at the O2 Arena during a concert.

    I am pretty sure I'd get a better throughput using smoke signals.

  46. bed

    As Always cont’d…

    As Always cont’d…

    Cell phone masts do not necessarily need a fibre back-haul connection, many using microwave dishes, but, if it is required, there is a surprising large amount of fibre in the ground connecting major conurbations and, increasingly, connecting telephone exchanges – you just don’t hear about it because telcos are somewhat shy about publicising where the fibre is. And, even if there is fibre in a duct passing past your front door this does not guarantee access as it is not something you can tap easily.

  47. s. pam
    FAIL

    Who care, still cannot get a fecking signal

    Between Reading and Maidenhead on the A4.

  48. Gordon 10 Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Re: Who care, still cannot get a fecking signal

    Let me guess another GWR commuter? The reception on the Great Western Mainline which parallels the A4 in a lot of places has always been dire...

    Ironic given that all the Operators but EE have their HQ's within spitting distance of that line and the A4.

    The mobile black spot (gotta be a jammer imo) at the "train end" of Paddington Station with LOS to Voda Group HQ always amuses me - when I'm not desperately trying to make a call or load some data that is.

  49. MrNigel

    Backhaul nonsense

    As a young lad I worked on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia TEP4 contract in the early 80's, which included 18K of mobile 'lines'. Back in t'day backhaul from a non-metro RBS to the MTX was 4x4 wire analogue circuits unless the local town mayor managed to twist a microwave dish out of the MoPTT. It was a status symbol, 2MB PCM coax didn't cut it over a glass of Siddiqui. Everything was monitored remotely in Riyadh by an AOM 101 via 19.2K X.25 links. I blame t'interweb for today's consumers unrealistic speed expectations.

  50. steviebuk Silver badge

    Three haven't even....

    ...sorted out 3G or 4G properly in the coastal town I live in. Regularly go into town and lunch and walk into shops only to loose 4G signal and forced onto H. On my old S4 I'd be forced onto nothing and would lose all signal.

    Although I have a good package with Three, their signal is piss poor. Annoys me because their is a mast just up the hill from the house, yet still get poor signal in some parts of the house, even when by a window.

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