In a move that will appease operators O2 and Vodafone, UK comms regulator Ofcom has revealed that significant progress that has been made in moving forward the delivery of competitive 4G mobile services across the UK. This means that the 4G auction process is on track to begin at the end of the year to enable competitive 4G services across UK during the first half of 2013.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services.” He said that the regulator’s objective had always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and it remained focused on starting the auction by the end of the year.
Over the last 18 months, Ofcom has consulted on how it proposes to auction the spectrum in a way that ensures it is available as quickly as possible and in a way that ensures a competitive market. To further secure 4G services for UK consumers, in August Ofcom gave approval to an application by Everything Everywhere (now EE) to use some of its existing spectrum to offer a 4G service. This is expected to launch this year. O2 and Vodafone had threatened legal action if the auction wasn’t brought forward to enable them to compete with EE.
Ofcom plans to start the auction process to release spectrum at the end of the year, with bidding starting early in 2013. The auction will offer the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today – some 80 per cent more than released in the 3G auction which took place in 2000. The plans include a requirement that mobile broadband services will be available indoors to at least 98 per cent of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK. Outdoor coverage should exceed 99 per cent of the population
Ofcom says its consistent objective has been to ensure that the 4G spectrum – at 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz – is made available as soon as possible. Following discussions with TV broadcasters, Digital UK and the transmission company Arqiva, Ofcom has secured the earlier release of frequencies that were previously used for digital terrestrial broadcasting. This spectrum will now be cleared and ready for 4G mobile services across much of the UK five months earlier than previously planned, from spring 2013.
This has only become possible in the past few months as a result of the significant progress that has been made to date with the digital switchover and the clearance programme itself, which has been running ahead of schedule. This means that more UK consumers will be able to benefit from a competitive market for super-fast mobile broadband sooner than previously possible.