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Ofcom Timetable Reveals No UK Next Generation LTE Mobile Broadband Until 2014

Posted: 17th Nov, 2010 By: MarkJ
uk lte 3g 4g ofcom mobile broadbandofcomThe boss of communications regulator Ofcom UK, Ed Richards, has given an interesting speech to the FT World Telecoms Conference. He confirmed that the process of releasing "super-fast" (100Mbps+) LTE friendly next gen (4G) Mobile Broadband spectrum (800MHz and 2.6GHz) would not complete until "the end of 2013" (i.e. 2014 for the first services).

The 800MHz band (790-862MHz) of radio spectrum is currently being used for old analogue television (TV) services, although the Digital Switchover to digital terrestrial TV has allowed 800MHz to be repurposed for use by Mobile Broadband. This is often referred to as the Digital Dividend.

Ofcom currently expects Parliament to consider the draft legislation laid before it within the next week or so, directing release of this spectrum and paving the way for the creation of new LTE networks in the UK. However its timetable suggests that the process for 800MHz and 2.6GHz will still take several years to complete!

The news is more positive for existing 900MHz and 1800MHz 2G (voice) spectrum, which is due to be converted for use by existing 3G (HSPA) Mobile Broadband services. Ofcom recently found that liberalising this spectrum in the hands of the existing licensees (i.e. O2 and Vodafone UK), without imposing conditions, would benefit consumers and not result in a distortion of competition.

Ofcom's CEO, Ed Richards, said:

"Provided that this legislation passes successfully, we will be able to move rapidly to liberalise the 900Mhz and 1800Mhz spectrum, allowing it to be used to deliver 3G services, making it tradable, and also extend the duration of the 3G licences with associated enhanced coverage obligations."

The government itself plans to get this (900MHz and 1800MHz) all resolved by the end of 2011. It would not require any new release or auction mechanisms like 800MHz and 2.6GHz. In theory LTE / 4G technology can also be used by the 1800MHz band, although operators are likely to hold out until 800MHz and 2.6GHz becomes available.
Ofcom's UK Spectrum Timetable:

* We aim to publish a consultation on our assessment of likely future mobile competition and detailed proposals for the combined auction, including details of any measures we propose to take to ensure effective competition, by the end of February [2011].

* That consultation will end in May [2011].

* A statement on future competition and details of the combined auction, together with draft auction regulations, in early autumn of 2011.

* Final auction regulations in place before the end of 2011.

* Bidders’ applications invited, eligibility checks and bidding itself to commence in Q1 2012.

* Depending on how long bidding lasts, result known and licences issued in Q2 2012.

* The spectrum itself we expect to be available from the beginning of 2013.

* The process of release completed, we hope, by the end of 2013.

* Networks up and running shortly thereafter.
However the regulator was quick to warn that any litigation against the Government or itself would jeopardise this timetable, although most of those concerns have since been ironed out during private discussions between operators and the government. It also noted that the timetable could be stretched, much as occurred during the 3-year long auction of 3G spectrum.

Ofcom's CEO, Ed Richards, added:

"But we want to set out and attempt to hit this ambitious timescale because of the significance of this spectrum to our economy and to our society.

It is clear that we are talking about a very significant step forward – not only the most significant release since the 3G auction in 2001 but spectrum which is the raw material that will fuel an explosion in next generation mobile broadband.

For new innovation, for widening choice, for developing new services and for delivering high speed mobile broadband, this is an essential ingredient – with companies and consumers therefore sharing a common interest in making progress as early as possible."

It's interesting to contrast this development with the new Informa Telecoms & Media (ITM) research from earlier this morning (here). ITM warned that the UK might have to wait until 2015 before mobile operators adopt LTE because it wouldn't be economically viable for them to do it any sooner. As it stands this is now a moot point; 2014 is the earliest we'll see enough LTE friendly spectrum.
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