Ofcom reveals timetable for 4G auction; issues legal instrument draft

24 Jul 2012

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has confirmed that it expects to kick start the auction of what it calls the country’s ‘largest ever auction of spectrum for mobile services’ before the end of this year, with the development expected to allow the country’s cellcos to launch 4G services in 2013. According to a press release issued by Ofcom on the plans, it noted that the auction will offer the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum currently in use.

With the regulator saying that it had confirmed its decisions on the auction, including measures that it hopes will ensure next generation mobile broadband becomes available to nearly everyone in the UK, it has outlined a number of specifics regarding the sale proposals. The 4G spectrum auction, it has been confirmed, will offer frequencies in at least two spectrum bands, those being 800MHz and 2.6GHz, with the two bands providing up to 250MHz of additional mobile spectrum, on top of the 333MHz in use in the UK today. The combination of low and high frequency spectrum, Ofcom notes, will create ‘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’.

Meanwhile, with a view to ensuring healthy competition in the sector, Ofcom has also confirmed that it will reserve a minimum amount of spectrum for a fourth operator, with that either being Hutchison 3G UK, which operates under the ‘3’ banner, or a new entrant. With the spectrum bands set to be auctioned as a series of lots, the watchdog has also revealed that one of the 800MHz lots will carry an obligation to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest. In addition to this UK-wide coverage obligation, Ofcom will also require the same operator to provide the same indoor service to at least 95% of the population of each of the UK nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with the regulator claiming that outdoor coverage for a network meeting this obligation is likely to be between 98%-99% of the population of each nation.

With Ofcom stating that it intends to hold the auction ‘as soon as possible’, it had published a draft of the legal instrument which implements the auction rules, with this document subject to a statutory consultation closing on 11 September 2012. Following this, the auction process itself is expected to begin before end-2012, with prospective bidders required to formally apply to take part. Applications will be assessed by Ofcom before the bidding phase starts, likely to be in early 2013, with cellcos subsequently expected to begin the rollout of 4G network from mid-2013, with commercial launches likely later that year.

Commenting on the development, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: ‘The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK.’

United Kingdom, Ofcom