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Cornwall Trial Progress as Ofcom Warns of New Laws to Tackle 4G Auction Delay

Posted: 30th Nov, 2011 By: MarkJ
uk lte 3g 4g ofcom mobile broadbandofcomThe UK communications regulator, Ofcom, yesterday told the European Competitive Telecommunications Association (ECTA) that new legislation "may well be a consideration" because incumbent mobile operators were continuing to "entangle" the forthcoming auction of 4G superfast Mobile Broadband spectrum (800MHz and 2.6GHz) with "litigation or threats of litigation".

Both the UK government and regulator have echoed similar warnings over the past few months but this appears to have had precious little impact. As a result Ofcom was recently forced to delay the auction process from Q1-2012 to Q4-2012 (here), although the actual rollout of related services is still targeted to begin during late-2013 at the earliest.

It's widely known that O2 and some others have used legal threats to slow the process, which Ofcom yesterday described as a "willingness to game the system". This is a view shared by Three (3) UK, which believes that O2 and Vodafone were handed an "unfair competitive advantage" (here) when Ofcom allowed them to use 900MHz (very similar to 800MHz) for 3G data services. Nobody else has any 900MHz spectrum.

Ofcom's CEO, Ed Richards, told ECTA:

"It has been very disappointing to witness the extent to which the incumbent mobile operators have chosen to entangle this process in litigation or threats of litigation.

We recognise, of course, the need for companies to defend their commercial interests and to have recourse to the law in order to do so. If a regulator or any other public authority makes a decision that is either procedurally or substantively flawed, the right of appeal is there to ensure good decisions replace bad ones.

But when litigation becomes essentially strategic rather than based on objective grounds, and when it has the effect of holding back innovation and hampering growth, it is legitimate to ask whether the overall legislative framework fully supports the public interest in this increasingly vital area.

I think some major companies will have to reflect upon whether they have inadvertently jeopardised the benefits of objective, independent regulation in this area by virtue of their willingness to game the system.

I am sure legislators would be all too willing to accept an argument which returns power in such matters to politicians, in light of the apparent inability of the current model to make timely decisions where the national interest is at stake."

It should be said that the path to new legislation, even when rushed, is rarely a speedy one and probably something that both the government and most mobile operators would prefer to avoid. The next round of consultations, which could last until the summer 2012, might well be used to decide whether or not any legislative action is necessary.

Separately Everything Everywhere ( Orange and T-Mobile ) and BT have issued an update on the progress of their 800MHz 4G trials in Cornwall (original news). The trial, which is being conducted with 200 people, has apparently managed to achieve stable download speeds of between 6-7Mbps and sub-70ms latency while under heavy load.

Everything Everywhere suggested that stable package speed options of 2Mbps and 8Mbps were more likely for the commercial launch. That's well below the 10-15Mbps that O2 recently predicted (here). By contrast Ofcom's first Mobile Broadband speed report (here) revealed that the current average UK mobile download speed was just 1.5Mbps (Megabits per second) - rising to 2.1Mbps in areas of "good 3G coverage" (note: fixed line broadband ISPs currently average out at 6.8Mbps).
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