Ofcom reveals 4G auction rules
November 12, 2012
By Colin Mann
UK comms regulator Ofcom has published final regulations and a timetable for the 4G mobile spectrum auction – the largest ever sale of mobile airwaves in the UK.
This new spectrum will be used to deliver 4G mobile services to people in cities, towns and villages across the UK and will almost double the amount of airwaves currently available to smartphones and tablets that use 3G networks.
The rules set out in detail the process involved in the auction – from applying to take part, through to bidding and finally issuing the licences to use the spectrum. Ofcom has also confirmed reserve prices for the different lots of spectrum on offer and outlines the timetable for the auction process.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Today marks an important shift from preparation to the delivery of the auction, which will see widespread 4G mobile services from a range of providers. The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.”
Ofcom has confirmed the reserve prices for the spectrum that is being auctioned. The combined total is £1.3 billion.
Ofcom has also announced December 11th as the provisional date for the submission of applications by prospective bidders. Ofcom will confirm the date in two weeks time, once the regulations have come into force.
The chronology for the auction is:
- December 11th: The application day – Prospective bidders submit their applications to Ofcom together with an initial deposit.
- December: Qualification stage – Applications are reviewed to determine who can go on to bid in the auction.
- January: The principal stage – Bidding begins. This could take a number of weeks. Bids will be placed online over secure Internet connections, using software that has been developed specifically for the auction.
- February/March: The assignment stage – Bidders informed what they have won and its cost.
- February/March: The grant stage – Licence fees are paid and licences granted.
- May/June: New 4G services launched – New 4G services expected to go live from a range of providers.
According to Ofcom, 4G services should make it much quicker to surf the web on mobiles – speeds will be nearer to what is currently experienced with home broadband. Because of this, 4G is ideally suited for high-bandwidth data services such as streaming high-quality video, watching live TV and downloading large files.
For the typical user, download speeds of initial 4G networks could be around 5-7 times those for existing 3G networks. This means a music album taking 20 minutes to download on a 3G phone and just over three minutes on 4G. This is based on existing 3G speeds being 1 Mbit/s on average and 4G speed being 6 Mbit/s (on average between 5 and 7 times faster).
A number of industry players have expressed concern that the introduction of 4G services will cause interference with Digital Terrestrial Television reception. Although numbers as high as 2.3 million homes have been mentioned, UK Communication Minister Ed Vaizey confirmed mid-July the terms of the £180 million scheme to help householders prevent 4G services interfering with television signals, suggesting in a letter to Ofcom that help would be available for the 900,000 homes which Ofcom estimate will be affected when 4G is introduced.
Most TV viewers will be able to solve any problems by fitting a filter, which will be provided free-of-charge by the assistance scheme. But for some homes, an engineer will need to fit the filter to a rooftop aerial. Vaizey confirmed that vouchers will be provided to eligible households to pay for the installation.
In a very limited number of cases where filters cannot improve the TV service, assistance would be provided to switch to free-to-view satellite or to cable TV. Extra support will also be offered to vulnerable consumers.