Britain's 4G auction set to rake in at least £1.4bn

Summary:The mobile broadband auction will not raise anything like the £22.5bn raised by selling off 3G spectrum, but it should ensure indoor and outdoor coverage for even far-flung rural parts of the UK

...four operators hold enough 4G spectrum to be viable wholesalers — this approach is intended to promote competition by encouraging smaller operators that resell connectivity rather than having their own networks.

Everything Everywhere shop

However, the regulator ran into a problem with the issue of sub-1GHz band, which some operators already have and others do not. This kind of spectrum allows services to propagate further with fewer masts, as well as providing better indoor coverage, when compared with the 2.6GHz band also in the auction.

Everything Everywhere, which has no sub-1GHz spectrum, used to have a guarantee that it would get 800MHz spectrum in the 4G auction, no matter what. However, Ofcom dropped that guarantee in January, saying operators with a lot of 1800MHz spectrum (which Everything Everywhere has) could use that for 4G and that would make up for having nothing below 1GHz.

Ofcom had also planned to set aside some 800MHz for Three or another new entrant, given that Three has nothing but 2.1GHz 3G spectrum right now. Three feared it would lose this guarantee, but Ofcom maintained it in the latest proposals.

However, given the fact that Three could pick up some 1800MHz spectrum from Everything Everywhere or through the auction, the regulator halved the guaranteed amount of 800MHz spectrum.

ZDNet has approached Three for comment on this, but had received none at the time of writing.

Low power

Previously, Ofcom suggested setting aside some 2.6GHz spectrum for "low-power shared use by operators of sub-national radio access networks". This would have made life easier for organisations such as universities to have their own private campus LTE networks.

However, that proposal has now been dropped, after Ofcom worked out that the benefits would probably not outweigh the capacity limitations it would create for national networks.

"We didn't have massive amounts of interest in it either," the regulator's spokesman said.

The new proposals are subject to consultation now, a process that will end on 11 September. Operators will be invited to take part in the auction by the end of the year, and bidding will kick off early next year.

Ofcom then expects winning operators to roll out their 4G networks from mid-2013 and start offering the services later. It still has to decide whether to let Everything Everywhere jump the gun by offering 4G services over its existing spectrum , although it has indicated that it is minded to allow this.

Topics: Mobility, Telcos


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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