Ofcom proposals to allow 4G mobile services this year

Mainstream 4G mobile services could be available in the UK as early as this year, under proposals outlined by Ofcom.

The mobile operator Everything Everywhere has submitted an application to Ofcom to use its existing spectrum to deliver 4G services.

Allowing Everything Everywhere to reuse its spectrum in this way is likely to bring material benefits to consumers, including faster mobile broadband speeds and, depending on how Everything Everywhere uses the spectrum, potentially wider mobile broadband coverage in rural areas, noted Ofcom.

In reaction, Matthew Howett, analyst at Ovum, commented: “Ofcom’s proposal to allow a variation of Everything Everywhere’s 1800MHz spectrum licence is both consistent with the EC’s liberalisation process and follows a request to Ofcom during the recent additional consultation on the award of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.

“The proposal to grant EE’s request is both a win for it and potentially consumers in terms of getting early access to 4G services – by as much as 15 months earlier than its competitors could launch services. As we commented on previously, there appears to be growing interest in deploying LTE at 1800MHz given the nice balance of characteristics the band has – good coverage possibilities whilst also providing for capacity – both of which are necessary ingredients of a good user experience. With Ofcom no longer guaranteeing EE spectrum in the upcoming award, it would have been unlikely to dismiss this request and could in some ways be seen as offering EE a carrot to not legally challenge Ofcom’s current set of proposal for how the award should proceed.”

Ofcom has already considered whether allowing Everything Everywhere to use this spectrum in this way would distort competition, and has provisionally concluded that it would not. Given the benefits this would bring to consumers, Ofcom is in a good position to go ahead with the proposed change of spectrum use.

Howett added: “Three is likely to be most critical of Ofcom’s proposal given their on-going battle with Ofcom over what they see as the regulator’s failure to properly consider the unequal sub 1GHz spectrum holdings during Ofcom’s implementation of the EC’s liberalisation decision. The moment is coming when it’s in the interests of all parties to let that award happen sooner rather than later. If the plan to auction the spectrum in Q4 2012 goes ahead then we could see widespread availability of LTE in the UK by the end of 2013.”

Interested parties have four weeks in which to submit their views on this proposed change.

UK Broadband also announced in February 2012 that it will launch a 4G network this year. Using its 3.5 GHz spectrum, it plans to offer commercial 4G services from May 2012 on a wholesale basis. The network will initially cover the Southbank and Borough areas of Southwark.