Swedish telecoms regulator, Post & Telestyrelsen (PTS), has said that the country’s 3G network licensees will not face immediate fines for failing to meet the coverage requirements of their concessions. Instead, PTS says it will postpone any penalties provided that the network operators – Vodafone, Hutchison Whampoa’s majority-owned Hi3G Access and the Tele2/TeliaSonera venture Svenska UMTS Nät – actively work towards achieving the agreed 98.2% coverage level using a ‘more commercially viable’ technology than the currently utilised W-CDMA.
The regulator originally awarded four concessions to operate UMTS networks in December 2000. The SEK100,000 (USD10,700) licences were awarded via a beauty contest to Tele2, Vodafone, Hi3G Access and the Orange Sverige consortium, though the last named later returned its licence. The concessions, which are valid until 31 December 2015, originally stipulated that the operators must have coverage of at least 8.86 million people by December 2003, but despite being allowed to share the rollout costs between themselves, the cellco’s were pessimistic of meeting the deadline and lobbied PTS for an extension. In May 2004 the regulator relented and granted them a six-month extension in which to rectify ‘deficiencies’ in their service coverage before imposing injunctions or fines. With that date having now been and gone, PTS is giving the operators one last chance.
At present, the shared network of Vodafone and Hi3G has coverage of around 85% of the population, whilst both TeliaSonera and Tele2 are offering 3G services over Svenska UMTS Nät’s network, with coverage of approximately 80%. Hi3G has asked the regulator for permission to alter the terms of its licence to allow it to up its coverage by building out CDMA infrastructure in the country’s 450MHz band. PTS is expected to make a decision on the matter by August and has so far said only that it will not specify what technology the licensees must use provided that they do not ‘deliver an inferior service to consumers’.