London, the U.K.: U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom has set out new proposals for 4G mobile spectrum, including measures to extend coverage to at least 98% of the U.K. population.
As the U.K. switches from analogue to more efficient digital TV, new spectrum capacity is becoming available in the 800-MHz band. This spectrum will be auctioned along with higher-frequency airwaves in the 2.6-GHz band at the end of 2012. The amount of spectrum available will be equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.
In March 2011, Ofcom proposed a special condition that would be attached to one of the 800-MHz licences, obliging the holder to roll out a 4G network to 95% of the U.K. population. In October, the government announced plans to invest £150 million to boost mobile coverage in those areas with poor or no mobile service. A significant part of this money is likely to be spent on building new mobile infrastructure in areas of the U.K. where there is little or no commercial incentive for operators to do so.
Ofcom now believes that the special condition it previously proposed can be strengthened in one of two ways. The first option is to increase the obligation to 98% of the U.K. by population. However, the second and potentially more effective option is to require one 800-MHz operator to provide 4G coverage that not only matches existing 2G coverage but also extends into mobile “not spot” areas of the U.K. where the £150 million will provide infrastructure capable of supporting 4G coverage.
This option may have the potential to extend 4G mobile coverage to even more than 98% of the U.K. by population. It also would make it more likely that mobile broadband services would be provided in locations where they could be most valued by consumers, rather than in those areas where it is easiest for a licensee to meet the obligation.
Ofcom continues to believe that consumers are likely to receive better services at lower prices in the future if there are at least four national wholesalers of mobile services. Without the right quality and mix of spectrum, an operator might struggle to compete with other national wholesale providers.
Also, Ofcom is proposing to reserve some spectrum in the 2.6-GHz band to be shared by a group of companies to deliver innovative new mobile services for consumers. Potential applications include local mobile networks for student campuses, hospitals, or commercial offices, which operate on short-range frequencies serving a small area.