900MHz spectrum could become available for 3G
Advice from Ofcom to the government earlier this week could see a liberalisation in the use of radio spectrum for operating 3G (UMTS) networks. Ofcom believes that a relaxation on the rules of spectrum use will be unlikely to distort competition and will benefit consumers. Currently 3G services in the UK are limited to operating in the 2100MHz band with GSM using 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum, each different operator having access to different spectrum. The lower frequency (900MHz) is more valuable as the signal can travel further, however only Vodafone and O2 currently have rights to use this frequency band.
The 900MHz band is in the process of being liberalised across Europe with some countries already offering 3G services in it. New mobile handsets are already set up to support this too, so the main limitation in stopping deployment in the UK is regulation. Previous to the merger of Orange and T-Mobile forming Everything Everywhere, both operators were concerned that O2 and Vodafone would maintain a competitive advantage by having sole use of the 900MHz spectrum. Ofcom believe that following the merger, this advantage has been reduced as the new company (and with their network-sharing agreement with Three) hold the largest amount of 2100MHz spectrum and the only real advantage Vodafone and O2 will gain is through the signal penetrating further into buildings. It's likely Everything Everywhere and Three could kick up a fuss, but their arguments are likely to be less valid following the Orange/T-Mobile merger.
In relation to liberalising the 1800MHz spectrum for 3G, there is a smaller benefit comparatively for using this for 3G over 900MHz. Many handsets don't support 3G at 1800MHz so it will take longer for consumers to gain an advantage. Everything Everywhere have also agreed to return 2x 15MHz blocks of this spectrum to comply with European concerns over future competition of LTE with one network holding such a large chunk (60MHz) of consecutive bandwidth.
If this proceeds, more 3G spectrum will allow further deployments of 3G services, particularly reaching into more rural areas with the increased range available by using the lower frequency. Hopefully, a quick decision will be made allowing things to get rolling (unlike the 800MHz spectrum auctions which have been delayed).