The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has given Vodafone and Telefónica permission to share each other’s 2G and 3G networks, eventually 4G too, paving the way for greater and better coverage for both operators.
The merger, which was announced back in June, is similar to the agreement between Orange and T-Mobile, which formed a joint venture in 2010 under the Everything Everywhere (EE) umbrella.
The OFT said the deal between Vodafone and Telefónica, which operates O2 in the UK, would cause “no substantial lessening of competition”, as the only other major network, Three, already has a 3G sharing agreement with EE and will soon be sharing EE’s 1800MHz 4G spectrum, too (Three has no 2G network to share).
O2 and Vodafone are expected to join the 4G party when OfCom conducts a major auction of the remaining radio spectrum available to support future 4G mobile services.
Ronan Dunne, CEO of Telefónica UK, said: "This partnership is about working smarter as an industry, so that we can focus on what really matters to our customers - delivering a superfast network up to two years faster than Ofcom envisages and to as many people as possible. We look forward to Ofcom's spectrum auction and the release of 800 spectrum."
Vodafone CEO, Guy Laurence, added: "Our existing customers will benefit on the devices that they have today and we will lay the foundations for the real 4G network they will want tomorrow."
Two chunks of spectrum will be up for grabs at 800MHz and 2.6GHz. The former was vacated by the digital switchover and is ideal for widespread 4G coverage. The latter is a higher frequency spectrum that’s best suited for delivering the fastest 4G speeds.