UK telecoms regulator Ofcom said it is conducting an “overarching review” of the country’s digital communications, with the aim of making sure the market “continues to work for consumers and businesses”.
Being held ten years after the completion of its first strategic review, it will cover both fixed and wireless networks and services, while taking account of over-the-top services.
The regulator believes it is likely that fixed and mobile technologies and networks will converge over time, making it important to consider whether interventions are required to promote continuing competition.
“We have seen a number of significant wider developments. These include plans for the next round of fixed and mobile network investment, the use of ‘over the top’ communications services and continued market interest in convergence and consolidation across the value chain,” it added.
The most recent example of consolidation is BT’s planned acquisition of EE for £12.5 billion, which is still awaiting approval.
The review will have at least two phases: phase one will include evidence gathering and understanding experiences of digital communications, to be finished around summer this year, while phase two will involve drawing conclusions and deciding on next steps, to be completed by the end of the year.
Ofcom noted that mobile broadband availability has increased significantly, with 3G increasing to cover 99 per cent of premises, and 4G services available to 73 per cent of premises, while mobile broadband take-up is now 67 per cent.
Given that most of the UK’s fixed network operators plan to emulate players like Skype and WhatsApp that deliver voice, video and messaging services over broadband, Ofcom wants to know the scope for deregulating networks and services which are downstream of any ‘enduring bottlenecks’ so that they rely instead on competition to deliver good consumer outcomes.
Last month Ofcom opened up a consultation period about whether or not annual licence fees for 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum should take into account the coverage agreement operators signed with the UK government.