Ofcom launches public consultation on variation of licences for LTE use

4 Feb 2013

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced the start of a public consultation on the possibility of allowing the country’s cellcos to refarm existing spectrum for use with 4G LTE technology. The move comes after the watchdog received a number of requests from British cellcos for permission to repurpose frequencies that they are already using. According to Ofcom, both Vodafone UK and Hutchison 3G UK (H3G UK) are pressing to utilise their existing concessions for offering LTE-based services; Vodafone currently holds spectrum in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands, while H3G operates over the 2100MHz band. Further, the regulator has also revealed that both O2 UK and Vodafone UK are seeking the variation of their respective 900MHz concessions in order to allow them increase the maximum permitted base station transmit power by 3 decibels (3dB) for 3G use.

In response to such requests, Ofcom has said it proposes to liberalise all mobile licences in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands to permit for the deployment of fourth-generation technology. The watchdog has claimed that the proposals would allow it to meet a ‘long standing objective to liberalise all mobile licences so that there are no regulatory barriers to the deployment of the latest available mobile technology’. Further, Ofcom has also said that the development would mean the alignment of ‘the permitted technologies across all mobile spectrum licences, including the existing licences at 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz and the licences to be awarded by auction in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands’. The consultation meanwhile also includes a proposal to increase the maximum permitted base station transmit power in the 900MHz frequency band for UMTS (3G) technology, as requested by O2 UK and Vodafone UK. Submissions on the proposals are being accepted until 29 March 2013.

In separate but related news, H3G UK has reportedly committed to offer 4G services at no additional premium, when it does launch such products. According to the Financial Times, the cellco, which offers its services under the ‘Three’ banner, has said it will not charge customers a premium to access LTE speeds, with the increased downlink rates expected to made available to all of the operator’s smartphone customers. Commenting on the plans, David Dyson, H3G UK’s chief executive officer, was cited as saying: ‘We don’t want to limit ultrafast services to a select few based on a premium price … The price of a gigabyte of data will decrease [with 4G], not increase, and we are pricing it with this in mind, though you won’t see us necessarily dropping our prices.’

United Kingdom, Hutchison 3G UK (Three UK), O2 UK, Ofcom, Vodafone UK