Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Peace breaks out over 4G

The agreement reached in yesterday's talks between Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Ofcom and the mobile operators will lead to an accelerated rollout of 4G mobile broadband services in the UK, by both EE and other operators.

From the DCMS press release:
"Later this year Ofcom will begin auctioning the spectrum that many mobile companies will use for 4G services. Over the last month, instigated by the Government, Ofcom, mobile network operators, Digital UK, TV broadcasters, and others have been working to speed up the process of making that spectrum available. The Culture Secretary welcomed the close cooperation in helping to accelerate 4G roll out. Today’s meeting dispelled any fears of litigation and the Culture Secretary welcomed the co-operation of the operators. Thanks to a number of initiatives, mobile operators will be able to roll-out 4G services to the vast majority of the UK in the first half of next year – six months earlier than previously estimated.  This will follow EE’s launch of a 4G service ahead of Christmas this year."
Key to this agreement are plans to speed up the clearing of the spectrum that 4G services will use, the establishment of a body to address digital terrestrial TV (DTT) interference issues earlier than anticipated and continuing dialogue to consider how the planning process might be streamlined to speed up the deployment of mobile infrastructure. Ofcom has also issued a statement on the agreement:
"Ofcom plans to start the auction process to release spectrum at the end of the year, with bidding starting early in 2013. Ofcom’s consistent objective has been to ensure that the 4G spectrum – at 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz – is made available as soon as possible. Following discussions with TV broadcasters, Digital UK and the transmission company Arqiva, Ofcom has secured the earlier release of frequencies that were previously used for digital-terrestrial broadcasting. This spectrum will now be cleared and ready for 4G mobile services across much of the UK five months earlier than previously planned, from spring 2013. This has only become possible in the past few months as a result of the significant progress that has been made to date with the digital switchover and the clearance programme itself, which has been running ahead of schedule. This means that more UK consumers will be able to benefit from a competitive market for super-fast mobile broadband sooner than previously possible."
Coverage from the BBC here. A separate DCMS announcement reports that a  part-time Chair of the Interim Mitco Oversight Board has been appointed, Mitco being the body being set up and funded by the mobile network operators to manage the provision of assistance to those television viewers who are likely to suffer interference to reception from 4G services operating in  the 800MHz spectrum. The statement includes a link to a letter sent by Communications Minister Ed Vaizey to Ofcom in July 2012 confirming the establishment of the MitCo Oversight Board, illustrating the significant scale of likely DTT interference issues:
"Ofcom's figures, developed in discussion with industry stakeholders, indicate that  around 2.3 million households could be affected. However, only 900,000 are likely to rely on  DTT for their primary viewing, so in effect, fewer than a million people will  be directly affected. The rest will  be viewing television on satelite, cable or broadband. It is these 900,000 homes which should receive the assistance necessary to enable them to continue to view the services they are used to."
The scale of the problem is underlined by the funding ceiling proposed for MitCo, which is set at £180million, with any underspend to be returned to the funding mobile network operators. More on this from ISP Review.

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