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UK government hosts 4G talks with operators

Tuesday, 2 Oct 2012 | 8:19 AM ET

LONDON, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Britain's mobile operators will be urged to put aside hostilities in order to accelerate the roll-out of superfast broadband at a meeting with the regulator and the government later on Tuesday.

Culture minister Maria Miller is expected to bring forward the auction of 4G spectrum and announce plans to clear the airwaves earlier than planned, in return for operators agreeing not to launch legal action, sources close to the process said.

Britain has fallen behind many other European countries in the roll out of 4G, a technology that will speed up mobile broadband and could boost the country's productivity.

The biggest operator, Everything Everywhere - now known as EE - has been allowed by regulator Ofcom to re-use its existing spectrum to launch 4G services, to the consternation of other operators, which have to wait for the auction of additional spectrum early next year.

O2, owned by Telefonica , and Vodafone , both protested against Ofcom giving EE what they said was an unfair head start in 4G.

Legal action against the move was halted by a four-week ceasefire, during which Ofcom devised a number of measures to placate the operators and speed up 4G delivery.

These include bringing the auction scheduled for early next year forward by a couple of weeks and clearing some airwaves now being used for television services and radar by mid-2013, according to a letter from Ofcom to the minister and operators seen by the BBC.

"Essentially the idea is to avoid any legal action that would delay the auction, principally by reducing the gap between EE being able to roll out a 4G service and the others being able to roll it out with the spectrum they get in the auction," a government source said.

EE, a joint venture of France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom , will be asked to pledge not to disrupt the process of making the spectrum available, a source said.

It is likely to bid for additional spectrum at the auction, and will therefore be a stakeholder in the mitigation company that will be set up by the industry to solve the issue of interference to television services.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Catherine Evans)

((paul.sandle@thomsonreuters.com)(+44 20 7542 6843)(Reuters Messaging: paul.sandle.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: BRITAIN TELECOMS/4G

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