July 24, 2012

UK’s Ofcom To Hold 4G Auction Of Airwaves

Enid Burns for - Your Universe Online

Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority of the UK communications industries, has stated that it will hold an auction for next-generation 4G networks to its UK operators. More details will become available toward the end of this year, with a planned auction held in early 2013.

The 4G network, which provides mobile broadband services delivered using next generation mobile broadband technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX, is a relatively new standard that's the successor to 3G standards and allows web browsing and downloading of emails, videos, photos and music at much faster speeds. In the UK, the 4G spectrum was made available by airspace freed up following the country's analog television signal switch off. To date some tests of the 4G airspace have been rolled out on a small scale in the UK.

The auction process is expected to start at the end of 2012, subject to a statutory consultation closing on September 11, 2012. Ofcom will begin the auction process, but will likely not hold the actual auctions until early 2013. It is expected that companies who succeed in the auction in obtaining portions of the 4G spectrum will be able to start rolling out 4G networks by the middle of next year.

Ofcom says the 4G auction will offer at least two spectrum bands: 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. The lower frequency 800 MHz band is part of the 'digital dividend,' which will help facilitate widespread mobile coverage. The 2.6 GHz band is capable of delivering the faster speeds. The UK currently uses the 333 MHZ band, though the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands combined add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum.

"This combination of low and high frequency spectrum creates the potential for 4G mobile broadband services to be widely available across the UK, while offering capacity to cope with significant demand in urban centres," it said in an Ofcom statement.

Ofcom hopes to draw four parties to the auction in the interest of competition. To regulate this, Ofcom has reserved a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator. The three main mobile operators in the UK are Everything Everywhere, the merged entity of Orange and T-Mobile; Vodafone and Telifonica. Telifonica owns and operates 02. Hutchinson 3G is a potential fourth carrier named by Ofcom, though it says there's a possibility for a new entrant altogether.

The spectrum bands will be offered at auction to bidders as a series of lots. One of the 800 MHz lots of spectrum will carry an obligation to provide mobile broadband service for indoor reception to a large portion of the UK population. Ofcom estimates that this will provide mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98 percent of the UK population by the end of 2017. Ofcom expects that iposing the obligation on one operator will spur other operators to extend their own coverage in response.

The 800 MHz spectrum has an advantage in that it is easier to provide coverage outdoors than indoors. Therefore a network undertaking the obligation will have the potential to provide service for more than 99 percent of the UK population when outdoors.

Another dictate on the purchaser of the 800 MHz band is that the operator will have to provide the same indoor service to at least 95 percent of the population of each of the UK nations including England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Outdoor coverage for a network meeting this obligation will have the potential of serving up to 99 percent of the population of each nation. While the commitment is high, it also comes with a significant customer base.