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UPD UK Government Warns Mobile Broadband Operators to Avoid 4G Legal Battles

Posted: 14th Sep, 2011 By: MarkJ
UK DCMSuk lte 3g 4g ofcom mobile broadbandThe UK Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Jeremy Hunt MP, has today told mobile phone operators to "put aside competitive differences and work together" on the future auction of superfast 4G / LTE (800MHz and 2.6GHz) based Mobile Broadband spectrum.

The comments come shortly after the boss of Three (3) UK, David Dyson (CEO), warned that O2 , Vodafone and Everything Everywhere ( T-Mobile , Orange ) had effectively been "incentivised" by recent Ofcom directives (e.g. allowing owners of the 900MHz spectrum [O2/Vodafone] to use it for 3G data services) to delay the auction "for as long as possible" (here). O2 has been particularly vocal and is already banging on its legal drums.

The Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, said (Telegraph):

"We must press on as quickly as possible with the 4G auction. Sweden completed their auction in 2009, Germany last year, Italy is doing theirs this week and France will finish theirs this year. Mobile phone operators must put aside competitive differences and work together in their common – and our national - interest to make this happen.

We need to recognise that the future is not simply about superfast, broadband – it will be about superfast mobile."

Crucially the present government has not threatened the prospect of legislative intervention and thus some mobile operators, free from any primary conflict with authority, might attempt to delay the auction in order to preserve their competitive advantage.

The real situation will only become clear after Ofcom publishes a crucial statement on future competition and details of the combined auction, together with draft auction regulations, this autumn.

As a closing remark Hunt also suggested that the devices we all use to get online will "be mobile from now on", which suggests that the government is envisaging a situation where fixed line broadband ISP services will ultimately play second fiddle to mobile solutions. In some ways (Smartphones, Tablets etc.) this is already happening, albeit not in terms of dedicate internet access where fixed line solutions continue to dominate.

UPDATE 15th September 2011

We forgot to mention that Hunt's warning about taking too long also applied to disputes between BT and rival ISPs over the cost of access to the operator's cable ducts and poles (PIA).

Jeremy Hunt added:

"The process to reach a satisfactory conclusion on PIA prices for the use of BT’s ducts and poles is taking too long. PIA has to be sorted out – and quickly – in a way that allows fair competition, with different providers able to invest in our broadband infrastructure. It’s also important that we have a properly competitive market in retail fibre."

As expected Hunt also anticipates that Ofcom will need to intervene and the regulator has been preparing to do just that since earlier this year.
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