UK 4G wireless spectrum auction delayed until 2013

24 Jul 2012

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has revealed that while the wireless spectrum auction in the UK will be 80pc bigger than 3G and will cover 98pc of the UK’s population, the auctions for the precious spectrum will not begin until later this year with bidding not expected to begin until early 2013.

Ofcom said the spectrum auction is set to get under way by the end of 2012.

The auction will offer the equivalent of three-quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today – 80pc more than what was released during the 3G auctions in 2000.

This, it hopes, will see 4G mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98pc of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK.

It also revealed plans to reserve some of the available spectrum for a fourth national wholesaler other than the three largest operators in order to ensure greater competition for consumers.

While neighbouring country Ireland’s telecoms regulator ComReg has claimed 4G spectrum auctions will take place in the summer time, no official date has been revealed.

Universal broadband coverage for the UK

“The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK,” Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, explained.

“As a direct result of the measures Ofcom is introducing, consumers will be able to surf the web, stream videos and download email attachments on their mobile devices from almost every home in the UK.”

The 4G auction will offer at least two spectrum bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. The lower-frequency 800 MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’, which is ideal for widespread mobile coverage.

The higher frequency 2.6 GHz band is ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver faster speeds. These two bands add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum, compared to 333 MHz in use today.

This combination of low and high-frequency spectrum creates the potential for 4G mobile broadband services to be widely available across the UK, while offering capacity to cope with significant demand in urban centres.

The spectrum bands will be auctioned to bidders as a series of lots. One of the 800 MHz lots of spectrum will carry an obligation to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98pc of the UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest.

The 800 MHz spectrum is well suited to providing high levels of coverage, and we anticipate that imposing the obligation on one operator will drive other operators to extend their own coverage in response.

Given that it is easier to provide coverage outdoors than indoors, a network meeting this obligation is likely to cover more than 99pc of the UK by population when outdoors.

In addition to this UK-wide coverage obligation, Ofcom has decided to require that the same operator provides the same indoor service to at least 95pc of the population of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Outdoor coverage for a network meeting this obligation is likely to be 98-99pc of the population of each region.

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