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Ofcom Officially Proposes to Extend UK 4G Mobile Broadband Coverage to 98%

Posted: 12th Jan, 2012 By: MarkJ
uk lte 3g 4g ofcom mobile broadbandofcomThe communications regulator, Ofcom, has today launched a second consultation on the future auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum for use by the next generation of 4G superfast Mobile Broadband ( LTE ) services. The new assessment includes a proposal to extend the UK coverage of related services (licenses) from 95% to "at least" 98% of the population.

The move, which was originally campaigned for by the Conservative MP for Penrith (Cumbria), Rory Stewart (here), has been widely anticipated ever since October 2011 when the UK governments Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, pledged £150 million to support the new target (here).

According to Ofcom, a significant chunk of this £150m is likely to be spent on building new mobile infrastructure in rural areas of the UK where there is little or no commercial incentive for operators to do so.

Ofcom CEO, Ed Richards, said:

"This is a crucial step in preparing for the most significant spectrum release in the UK for many years. The proposals published today will influence the provision of services to consumers for the next decade and beyond.

The UK benefits from being one of the most competitive mobile phone markets in Europe. This means that consumers pay less for mobile communications services and have the choice to shop around for packages that suit them best. As the UK enters a new generation of mobile communications, Ofcom’s objective is to promote effective competition and to stimulate both investment and innovation.

In addition we are proposing a significant enhancement of mobile broadband, extending 4G coverage beyond levels of existing 2G coverage – helping to serve many areas of the UK that have traditionally been underserved by network coverage."

On top of that Ofcom has also proposed revised plans to promote competition, which aims to make sure that "at least four operators may have sufficient spectrum" to be credible national wholesalers of future mobile services.

In order to make this happen Hutchison3G UK ( Three (3) ), which is mentioned specifically, and any other potential "new entrant" must be allowed to acquire at least a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction. Ofcom intends to reserve some of the available spectrum for specifically this purpose, which O2 UK, Everything Everywhere ( Orange , T-Mobile ) and Vodafone will NOT be allowed to bid for.

Ofcom also proposes to impose limits on the amounts of spectrum that each bidder can acquire (i.e. spectrum caps), which would prevent any one operator from exceed certain safeguards and holding too much.

The consultation also confirmed plans to liberalize the use of mobile frequencies at 900MHz and 1800MHz for 4G ( LTE and WiMAX ) services. Everything Everywhere has already put in a request to do this and Ofcom will review that during Q1-2012. O2 UK, which was recently allowed to expand 900MHz for use by present 3G services, will no doubt follow in the future.

In related news, Everything Everywhere this week said that it hopes to make a cool £400m by selling off a 30MHz chunk of their holdings at 1800MHz. This is required by the EU as part of the recent merger and will probably take place before the 4G auction, although a date has yet to be set.

Ofcom's consultation is open until 22nd March 2012 and a final decision on the auction design will be made in the summer of 2012. The auction itself is expected to follow a few months later, starting in Q4 2012, with the first services expected to emerge by late 2013 or early 2014 as originally envisaged.
Ofcom's Second 800MHz and 2.6GHz Auction Consultation
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