Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ofcom: 4G auction plans published

Yesterday Ofcom published its plans for the auction of 4G spectrum, which is to be underway by the end of 2012 with the first services expected to be available in the second half of 2013. From Ofcom's press release:
"The plans should see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98% of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK. This will be achieved through 4G, the fourth generation of mobile technology, which will deliver much faster mobile data speeds to phones and other wireless devices than presently possible."
The auction will add considerably to the amount of mobile spectrum available for use by operators:
"The 4G auction will offer at least two spectrum bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. The lower frequency 800 MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’, which is ideal for widespread mobile coverage. The higher frequency 2.6 GHz band is ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver faster speeds. These two bands add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum, compared to 333 MHz in use today. This combination of low and high frequency spectrum creates the potential for 4G mobile broadband services to be widely available across the UK, while offering capacity to cope with significant demand in urban centres."
Ofcom has decided on the following approach to promote competition:
"Ofcom has concluded that UK consumers are likely to benefit from better services at lower prices if there are at least four credible national wholesalers of 4G mobile services. Therefore, in the interests of competition, Ofcom has decided to reserve a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator. This could be either Hutchison 3G or a new entrant altogether."
Coverage obligations will ensure as wide availability as possible:
"The spectrum bands will be auctioned to bidders as a series of lots. One of the 800 MHz lots of spectrum will carry an obligation to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest. The 800 MHz spectrum is well suited to providing high levels of coverage, and we anticipate that imposing the obligation on one operator will drive other operators to extend their own coverage in response. Given that it is easier to provide coverage outdoors than indoors, a network meeting this obligation is likely to cover more than 99% of the UK by population when outdoors."
Further information here, Ofcom also published yesterday a  draft of the legal instrument which implements the auction rules and gives effect to its decisions. This is subject to a statutory consultation closing on 11 September 2012. No decision has yet been made on whether Everything Everywhere will be allowed to launch 4G services using its existing spectrum holdings in advance of the auction:
"In November 2011, the mobile phone operator Everything Everywhere (EE) submitted an application to Ofcom to use its existing spectrum to deliver 4G services. Ofcom consulted earlier this year on whether to allow the change of use. A final decision on EE’s application – which is being considered independently of the auction for new spectrum – will be published by Ofcom in due course."
More on this here. Coverage from the BBC here and Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones here. ISP Review's coverage expressed disappointment in what it saw as Ofcom delaying the auction, though Rory Cellan-Jones' article suggests the auction is still within Ofcom's envisaged timescale. ThinkBroadband's coverage is here.

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