Following its initial consultation, Ofcom recently issued its assessment of future mobile competition and revised proposals for the auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum in the UK.
Ofcom has significantly revised its proposals set out in its first consultation, and the auction has disappointingly (although not unexpectedly) slipped to Q4 2012 at the earliest, with a strong likelihood (based on past performance by Ofcom) of the auction being delayed until 2013 – putting the UK well behind many of its global peers in mobile broadband.
The first significant change is a redesign of the auction process and rules which will now not guarantee than either Everything Everywhere or a fourth market participant will obtain sub-1GHz spectrum. Ofcom has reached this conclusion on the basis that the advantages of sub-1GHz spectrum are not sufficiently large to require regulatory intervention to ensure that all market participants have access to such spectrum.
The second, less controversial, change is the removal of 2 x 5MHz blocks from the 800 MHz auction, on the basis that this block is too small to be useful and may therefore end-up being under-used.
The new proposals comprise:
The revised proposed safeguard caps are:
- an overall spectrum cap of 2 x 105 MHz; and
- a sub-1GHz spectrum cap of 2 x 27.5 MHz.
These caps will cover all the spectrum in the auction (i.e. the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands) and existing mobile spectrum holdings (i.e. holdings at 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz, excluding the 2.1 GHz unpaired spectrum).
Reservation of Spectrum for 4th market participant
Ofcom is still of the view that they need to ensure that enough spectrum is available for a 4th market participant and are proposing that a medium portfolio (as opposed to minimal portfolio) will be reserved for that purpose.
Reservation of spectrum for sub-national Wi-Max operator?
Although Ofcom are studiously technology neutral they are also considering reserving 2 x 10MHz of spectrum in the 2.6 GHz band (suitable for Wi-Max) for an operator that is not one of the four national market participants.
One 800 MHz award to include roll-out obligation linked to mobile infrastructure programme
Ofcom has updated its prior proposal (to include an objective mobile broadband coverage obligation) in one of the 800 MHz licences to a more relative (and stretching) obligation to provide a 4G mobile broadband service with coverage comparable to the 2G mobile voice coverage delivered by todays 2G mobile networks (in combination) plus the extended mobile voice coverage achieved as a result of the government’s mobile infrastructure programme that is funding the roll-out of additional rural and not-spot coverage, to the extent that the MIP infrastructure is capable of supporting 4G network equipment.
Responses are due by 22 March, with the final rules published in the summer (always dangerous when a government body picks a season, rather than a month) and the award expected in Q4 2012.
EE Auction of 1800 MHz
It is also worth flagging that as a result of undertakings given at the time that DT and FT merged their UK mobile operators Orange and T-Mobile, recent press reports have indicated that the merged Everything Everywhere entity they will be running a private auction of UK 1800MHz spectrum.