Industry expert warns: ComReg’s auction plan could leave some rural users without mobile coverage

18 Jun 2012

The Irish regulator ComReg’s policy decisions over its forthcoming auction on 4G-suitable mobile frequencies could leave users in some rural areas without a signal, says The Irish Examiner quoting an industry expert at mobile equipment manufacturer Ericsson as saying. In a written submission, the Ericsson official reportedly says that the proposed auction could leave thousands of users without coverage following the watchdog’s decision not to actively push for a universal service obligation (USO) through the allocation process. ‘The USO option, unless implemented quickly, fails to deal with the threat of coverage ‘erosion’ that Ericsson has highlighted and if such a trend takes hold, ComReg will be pretty powerless to do anything about it given that the licenses will have been issued with the low coverage obligations,’ the engineer said.

Under the proposed regulatory framework, ComReg intends to stipulate that new licences will carry a minimum coverage requirement of 70% of the population, which critics argue could theoretically encompass around 10% of the territory’s land area – mainly along the heavily-populated east coast. Despite these concerns, ComReg is confident that market competition will drive network operators to maintain and upgrade their network infrastructure in more remote parts of the Republic. In response to the concerns a spokesperson for the national watchdog says: ‘ComReg considered that actual coverage levels are expected to exceed this 70% population obligation, given the competitive nature of the market and the limited risk of roll-back of coverage from the existing levels.’ Nonetheless, it is clear that even ComReg’s own consultation documents admitted that failure to impose USO on network operators could lead to a deterioration in coverage in some rural areas.