The watchdog said it had made the move to give stakeholders ‘more time to respond'. The change was announced hours after O2 and Vodafone hit out against the fact that Ofcom had given its provisional backing to the proposal earlier this month.
Ofcom stated: ‘Ofcom today extended the period for responding to Ofcom's "Notice of proposed variation of Everything Everywhere's 1800MHz spectrum licences to allow use of LTE and WiMAX technologies" from 17 April 2012 until 8 May 2012. We have decided to extend this period following requests from stakeholders for more time to respond.'
Ofcom provisionally backed the proposal by Everything Everywhere, saying that it would be ‘likely to bring material benefits to consumers, including faster mobile broadband speeds and - depending on how Everything Everywhere uses the spectrum - potentially wider mobile broadband coverage in rural areas.'
But competing networks argued that the move would result in unfair competition because Everything Everwhere would get a head start on offering LTE services.
O2 claimed this week that the move could make it difficult to establish a competitive market environment for services that use next-generation mobile technology. A statement from O2 UK said: ‘From the very start of this process, Ofcom has said that the UK must retain a competitive market environment and that it will remove the ability for operators to behave strategically over spectrum allocation ... To this end, Ofcom's auction proposals had much to commend them, and we were minded to support a small spectrum reservation for Hutchison or a new entrant, if Ofcom could make a stronger case for four players.'
But it added that it was concerned that allowing one operator to release 4G early would be contradictory to a competitive market.