Ofcom to hold 4G mobile spectrum auctions in 2012

22 Mar 2011

The UK’s pioneering telecoms regulator Ofcom plans to launch the largest-ever auction of wireless spectrum in the UK – it will be equal to three-quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today and 80pc more than when the 3G auctions took place in 2000.

Ofcom says it wants the benefits of 4G services to be available as soon as possible and wants to start the auction in the first quarter of 2012, following an industry-wide consultation.

The news comes hot on the heels of AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom this week for US$39m. AT&T has promised fourth-generation (4G) long term evolution (LTE) coverage across 95pc of the US.

Ofcom said the spectrum release will be vital to meet the UK’s rapid increase in mobile traffic fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services, including email, video streaming, messenger services, mapping and social networking.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards explained the auction is not only critical to the future of the UK mobile telecoms market but it is also of significant importance to the wider economy.

“It will support a wide range of data services that are fast becoming essential features of the modern world,” Richards said.

“Our role as the independent regulator is to award this spectrum in a way that secures the best use of the spectrum for the benefit of citizens and consumers in the UK.

“That is why we are proposing to design the auction in a way that not only encourages investment but also promotes competition and delivers wide coverage of services,” Richards explained.

Under measures being proposed by Ofcom, the auction will include a combination of safeguards and coverage conditions to promote competition and significantly widen the coverage of mobile broadband to 95pc of the UK population.

Details of the UK’s 4G spectrum auctions

The auction will be for two spectrum bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz.

The lower frequency 800 MHz band is part of the digital dividend, which is being freed up as the UK switches from analogue to digital TV. This spectrum is ideal for widespread mobile coverage.

The 2.6 GHz band is at a higher frequency, and is ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver higher speeds. These two bands add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum.

The combination of low and high-frequency spectrum available in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands creates the potential for next-generation mobile broadband services to be widely available across the UK, while at the same time having the capacity to cope with significant demand, even in urban centres.

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