New 4G auction plan could clear deadlock

Summary:Ofcom has revised earlier proposals for the upcoming 4G auction in ways that could end the repeated delays in bringing fast mobile broadband to the UK

...that Ofcom has again reversed its proposal to ensure all mobile operators hold a minimum amount of sub-1GHz spectrum," the operator said. "Ofcom is missing a huge opportunity for the UK to address the imbalance in sub-1GHz spectrum holdings, which has damaged consumer interests for the last 20 years — and is a situation which is now threatening to continue."

The 2 x 45MHz spectrum measurement quoted by Ofcom represents what Everything Everywhere will hold in 1800MHz once it has sold off a further 2 x 15MHz — a condition of the European Commission's approval of the T-Mobile-Orange merger. Given that the UK more-or-less gave that spectrum to Everything Everywhere in the first place, the operator has promised to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into its UK network.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that Everything Everywhere's sale will kick off within the next month, with the proceeds expected to total up to £400m.

Three currently has no 2G spectrum at all, as it only began operations in the era of 3G. According to Howett, if Three picked up some of Everything Everywhere's 1800MHz spectrum at auction, that might remove the need for Ofcom to reserve any sub-1GHz spectrum at all.

"If Three recognise the nice balance 1800MHz offers [between bandwidth and range] and tries to acquire some from Everything Everywhere's divestiture, then Ofcom may think again," Howett suggested.

Ofcom's spokesman confirmed to ZDNet UK that this would indeed be the case.

Mobile coverage in rural areas

Regarding the issue of mobile coverage in rural areas, Ofcom's proposal in March to have one of the 800MHz buyers serve 95 percent of the population drew criticism from MPs, who wanted the mobile broadband coverage to reach 98 percent.


Ofcom is missing a huge opportunity for the UK to address the imbalance in sub-1GHz spectrum holdings, which has damaged consumer interests for the last 20 years.

   – Everything Everywhere

Ofcom has now decided the 98-percent target is is a good idea. However, its proposal for reaching this goal means people in hard-to-reach places who end up getting mobile broadband coverage for the first time will most likely have no choice of operator.

The regulator's decision to extend the coverage obligation is closely tied to the government's announcement in October of a £150m fund for new mobile masts in areas that currently lack even mobile voice services. This government plan aims to provide around 99 percent of viable voice coverage across the UK. This level of coverage already exists, but only if areas of very poor reception are counted.

According to Ofcom, the revised obligation will have the broadband provider match the expanded voice coverage. There are two ways to achieve this: the operator could itself participate in the government voice rollout, or it could install its own 4G kit on new masts rolled out by other operators as part of that scheme.

It is not clear whether the operators participating in the voice coverage scheme would have to allow this sort of piggy-backing. This could be clarified, however, as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) launched a consultation on Thursday that asks the mobile industry what it would like the specifics of the scheme to be.

Ofcom acknowledged that, either way, the operator with the mobile broadband coverage obligation would probably be the only choice of operator for people receiving such coverage for the first time.

The regulator considered and rejected two options that could have changed this. It looked at forcing every 800MHz licence holder to match the newly-expanded voice coverage footprint. However, it decided this would probably lead to wasteful duplication of masts, unless the new infrastructure is capable of accommodating every licence holder, which is far from guaranteed.

Ofcom also considered forcing the one operator under the obligation to offer wholesale 4G access to its rivals. However, it said this would be overly complicated and costly, and might make operators less like to bid for that licence.

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Topics: Networking


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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