UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom outlined a number of new proposals for the country’s planned 4G auction, which it said introduces “measures expected to extend coverage to at least 98 percent of the UK population and revised plans to promote competition.”
Stakeholders now have 10 weeks to comment on the proposals, before a final decision on the auction design is made in the summer. The licensing process will kick-off “a few months later,” starting in the fourth quarter of 2012.
Previously, Ofcom had suggested that a special condition be attached to one of the 800MHz licences, obliging coverage of 95 percent of the UK population with the 4G network. It said that this could now be “strengthened in one of two ways”: by increasing this requirement to 98 percent population coverage or, a “potentially more effective option,” by mandating coverage of “not spot” coverage areas, supported by a previously announced £150 million government investment to boost mobile reception in underserved areas.
By looking to promote the rollout of 4G networks to areas currently with poor mobile signals, Ofcom will avoid the possibility that the operator with the rollout obligation will focus on metropolitan areas in order to achieve the greatest population coverage.
The regulator also said that it believes customers will receive better services at lower prices “if there are at least four national wholesalers of mobile services” – which means that operators need the “right quality and mix of spectrum.” It has identified a number of options for the auction process to promote competition, and includes options for the reservation of “varying amounts of spectrum” so that at least four networks can be supported.
In its consultation, Ofcom proposed safeguards including spectrum caps both on holdings of sub-1GHz spectrum, as well as frequency holdings in total.
In order to generate interest from new entrants, Ofcom is planning to reserve some spectrum in the 2.6GHz band “to be shared by a group of companies to deliver innovative new mobile services for consumers.” Options mooted include local networks for student campuses, hospitals or offices.
The regulator said that digital dividend (800MHz) frequencies and 2.6GHz spectrum will be auctioned, with the spectrum available “equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.”