4G spectrum auctions for Ireland ‘imminent’, says ComReg

8 Mar 2012

The introduction of the ‘new iPad’ is a game changer set to drive demand for fourth-generation (4G) mobile – but one problem: both the UK and Ireland have yet to auction spectrum before 4G arrives. Industry insiders warn the delays are holding up hundreds of millions of euros worth of capital investment.

Ireland’s telecoms watchdog ComReg will auction 28 blocks of spectrum to the highest bidders for between 2013 and 2030.

However, these auctions – which could net the Government in Ireland up to €260m in bonus revenue – were due to be held in February, but could now be pushed back until April, or later, as operators feel as far out as June.

Liberalisation of the 900MHz frequency bands currently used for 2G will allow operators to run 3G broadband services in traditional GSM areas – possibly blanketing more than 90pc of the island in broadband – as well as new 4G services via long term evolution technology.

Hundreds of millions of euros on standby

An industry insider warned that some of the mobile operators in the Republic of Ireland are growing impatient and have hundreds of millions of euro worth of capex on standby waiting to invest in upgrading their networks.

“What this will mean in consumer terms is wherever GSM voice is available today we will have 3G data coverage. We’re waiting for the spectrum auctions to begin and our fear is Ireland will be the last country in Europe – or the world – to catch up on this one.”

In the US and Canada, operators have moved swiftly from second-generation CDMA networks to the latest fourth-generation LTE networks and the new iPad from Apple with its 4G capability is capable of enjoying broadband speeds of 73Mbps.

“We are sitting on our hands,” the industry insider said, pointing out that although the European Commission has said it’s OK for operators to press ahead with deployments in the midst of regulatory holdups, operators in Ireland don’t want to appear insulting to ComReg.

“We don’t want to push ahead before ComReg auctions spectrum because they’ll find another way to pull the rug from under us.

“We have the money sitting there to invest, the Government wants us to invest but we’re stuck waiting for the auctions to begin.”

A similar situation has unfolded in the UK, with Ofcom supposed to be auctioning off the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies to support 4G. However, auctions that were set for early 2012 have been held back due to responses to its various consultations.

A spokesman for ComReg told Siliconrepublic.com that a consultation setting out the timetable and parameters for the auctions is imminent.

One of the primary reasons for the delay, he explained, is that the regulator has been receiving requests for extensions from interested parties.

“What this does is push out further the deadline each time,” the spokesman said, pointing to a web page detailing requests for extensions.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years