ComReg to publish 3G licence obligations


5 Feb 2004

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ComReg chairman John Doherty has told siliconrepublic.com that he plans to publish the obligations of the 3G licences awarded to Vodafone, O2 and Hutchison almost two years ago. Previously, this information would have cost in the region of €20,000 to access.

In March 2002, Vodafone, O2 were awarded ‘B’ spectrum licences valued in the region of €74m while Hutchison Whampoa bid for an ‘A’ licence valued at €27m, but which carried an obligation to host a third party operator, or mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), on its network.

Each operator with a B licence is expected to be spending upwards of €1bn each in rolling out their respective networks and both Vodafone and O2 each claim to have over 40pc of the Irish population covered by 3G services and are actively trialling 3G services with corporate customers. Hutchison, or 3, on the other hand claims to have parts of Dublin covered with 3G services and is offering them to a number of corporate customers. Last year it awarded a €100m contract to Esat BT to construct its nationwide 3G network.

However, there has been speculation that some of the operators may be behind in their respective 3G licence obligations, delaying the advent of 3G services to Irish citizens. It has also been made clear that a shortage of actual 3G handsets that would be palatable for the public by handset manufacturers like Nokia is causing mobile operators the world over considerable consternation. While O2 and Vodafone openly claim progress on their 3G network rollout, Hutchison has proved somewhat elusive in revealing its state of progress.

In an interview with siliconrepublic.com, the chairman of the Commission on Communications Regulation (ComReg) said: “We are going to publish the licences, subject to some element of confidentiality, in the next 10 days. Clearly there are some elements of commercial sensitivity that are not normally published in any context.”

Up until now, this licence information would have cost over €20,000 to access as the information would have only been available to bidders for the respective licences. In the last licencing round in March 2002, one of the ‘B’ licences went unclaimed, costing the Exchequer almost €50m in lost revenue. This was due to itchy feet by Orange and the early stage of customer acquisition by Meteor.

Doherty continued: “We had four characteristics that we wanted to measure, and in our view the operators are compliant with those. One is that the networks are switched on, which they are. Another is that services are available, tariffs are published and customer service is available. Under the headings of those criteria, which were set out in the original licence arrangement, they are compliant with all of those arrangements.”

Emphasising his satisfaction with the progress of the 3G process in Ireland, Doherty said: “Is Ireland any different from anywhere else in the context of say handset availability. No. There are serious problems there. But have they met the conditions that we set out? Yes they have.

“What we’re looking forward to is moving beyond this noise about where they [the operators] are right now, to getting lots of people using 3G services towards the latter end of this year. Consumers will be able to select what service they want, what applications they want, whether fixed or mobile.

“We always have a process of publication on the basis that operators are accountable to the public in terms of transparency. We will be true to that with the caveat that we will not publish confidential, commercially sensitive information between operators,” Doherty concluded.

By John Kennedy