Ofcom proposals to deliver faster, better mobile broadband

UK consumers could enjoy faster, more reliable wireless broadband services in homes, offices and businesses across the UK under Ofcom proposals to open up the spectrum bands.

Today’s consultation builds on earlier Ofcom work to liberalise spectrum for mobile phone services and make its use more efficient. This could create opportunities for new and enhanced wireless services, with mobile broadband a prime candidate.

In its Digital Britain report, published last month, the Government highlighted the importance of these changes and encouraged the industry to agree a set of spectrum trades by the end of April 2009. Ofcom has welcomed this approach and these proposals will help inform the discussions by setting out Ofcom’s proposed solution for adoption if no suitable industry agreement can be reached in that time.

Ofcom’s initial consultation proposed to remove the conditions attached to 2G and 3G licences that state how these spectrum bands must be used. These conditions were imposed when the licences were issued by the Government between 1985 and 2000.

The proposals would mean that the spectrum currently restricted to 2G services – voice and limited data services – could be used for a much wider range of uses, including 3G-type services.

Ofcom also proposed that the two companies – Vodafone and O2 – which operate 2G services in the 900 MHz band should be required to relinquish some of their spectrum to make its use more efficient. This is because this spectrum is much better at providing high-speed services in buildings and in rural areas than the spectrum used by other operators.

This approach would safeguard competition and consumer interests and create major opportunities for innovation in wireless services.

In the latest consultation document, Ofcom has further refined the plans. It proposes that the existing 900 MHz licensees should be required to release 10 MHz of spectrum in total (this is made up of 2 x 5 MHz). This would be released to the market through an auction held by Ofcom.

This would create fresh opportunities for the launch of new services, including improved mobile broadband services, and allow for effective competition as these services are rolled out.

Subject to the consultation, Ofcom would aim to auction the released spectrum in summer 2010. The licences would be tradable to ensure the most efficient use.

The document also confirms Ofcom’s view that the regulator should not require other spectrum bands to be released, as these do not provide the same advantages as 900MHz.

Ofcom is anticipating forthcoming European legislation later this year that will set a framework for liberalising these spectrum bands.