Singapore IDA contemplates reserving spectrum for new entrant as it consults on 4G auctions

In a consultation published earlier this week, Singapore’s Info-Communications Development Agency (or IDA) published a consultation on auctioning and reserving spectrum in Singapore for 4G (LTE or WiMAX) use in the in 1800 MHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.5GHz bands. (As an aside, the 2.5GHz band from 2500 MHz to 2690MHz is also described as the 2.6 GHz range by some European regulators).

Although there is no definitive commitment to set aside spectrum for a new entrant, the IDA consultation indicates that it is prepared to reserve 2 x 20MHz in the 2.5 Ghz band for new entrants only, coupled with a relaxation of the national coverage timetable to the extent there is genuine interest from a credible new entrant. Any interested parties should respond to the consultation indicating their interest.

Key points of the consultation proposals are:

Spectrum to be auctioned / reserved

  • 2 x 70MHz paired spectrum in 1800Mhz band;
  • 30 MHz in the 2.3 GHz band; and
  • 2 x 60 MHz paired spectrum and 30MHz unpaired spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.

In addition, spectrum will also be reserved for future allocation as follows:

  • 2 x 5 MHz paired spectrum in 1800Mhz band;
  • 20 MHz in the 2.3 GHz band; and
  • 2 x 10 MHz paired spectrum and 20MHz unpaired spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band.

The proposal is that the spectrum would be auctioned/ reserved in 10MHz blocks.

Licence conditions

The consultation proposes that licensees will be required to offer commercially available 4G services to retail end-users in Singapore. This obligation is a national obligation, although as Singapore is effectively a city-state this is rather less onerous than in other jurisdictions, although interestingly licensees holding more than 30MHz in the 2.3 or 2.5 GHz bands will be required to provide coverage in underground MRT stations / lines and road tunnels by 2018.

Auction format

The IDA is proposing to allocate spectrum by auction, using a “Clock-Plus” auction similar to those used in Sweden and India. Each of the bands will be a separate category with generic lots of 10 MHz.

In order to balance the conflicting requirements of giving operators as much spectrum as they would ideally like with the IDA’s need to have genuine competition to maximise long-term consumer welfare, the IDA is proposing an aggregate cap of 2 x 45 MHz paired spectrum (with no cap on unpaired spectrum).

The licences auctioned will run until 30 June 2030.

Next steps

Comments are due with the IDA by 8 May

Ofcom start consultation on technical licence conditions for 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum auctions

Ofcom today published a consultation on technical licence conditions for 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz UK spectrum auctions, due to take place in 2012. This follows their earlier general consultation on the auctions. Responses are due by 28 July.

Ofcom is consulting in parallel on specific additional technical restrictions that may be needed for co-existence of new services in the 800 MHz band with adjacent DTT use in bands below 790 MHz.

The diagram below (taken from the Ofcom document) shows the harmonised frequency arrangement for the 800 MHz band (per  Commission Decision 2010/267/EU) of 2 x 30 MHz with a duplex gap of 11 MHz, based on a block size of 5 MHz, paired and with a guard band at 790-791 MHz. The Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) downlink starts at 791 MHz and FDD uplink starts at 832 MHz.

In relation to the 2.6 GHz band,the UK band plan is shown below, consistent with the CEPT band-plan in ECC Decision (05)05 which designates 2500 to 2570 MHz paired with 2620 to 2690 MHz for FDD use and 2570 to 2620 MHz for Time Division Duplex (TDD) use.



In relation to each of these bands, Ofcom sets out proposed technical conditions. I refer interested readers directly to the Ofcom document.

At the end of the consultation document these is a (not well flagged)  interesting section in which Ofcom consults on the possibility of making available, whether through competition in the auction or explicit reservation, a block of paired 2.6 GHz spectrum for low-power shared access, in which each licensee would have ’shared’ (non-exclusive) access to the spectrum. This can be used for applications including pico and femtocells, and it will be intriguing to see what response this section gets from industry.

UK to auction 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum in 2012

Ofcom yesterday started a consultation on the rules for a proposed auction of 250 MHz  of spectrum in the 800 MHz (aka ‘digital dividend’) band and 2.6 GHz band in the first half of 2012. This is equivalent to 75% of existing mobile spectrum.

Whilst widely reported in the press as a ‘4G’ auction, apart from a proposed requirement in one of the 800 MHz lots of a 95% mobile broadband service obligation, there is no proposed technical use restriction or obligation to roll out LTE contained within Ofcom’s proposals.

Readers will recall the Watcher’s worry when Government published the Direction to Ofcom to carry out these auctions that the process was open to delay by means of litigation. Nothing in yesterday’s consultation allays that fear – if parties were to want to delay the auction there is  sufficient material within the proposals to mount an arguable challenge. However, this seems to me to be a very high stakes real-life example of the prisoner’s dilemma, and I can only hope that the real gains to be made by all parties (and the UK) from not delaying the auction will outweigh the potential relative advantages that could be gained by challenges by individual players.

For those who are interested, the legal constraints upon Ofcom are helpfully set out in Section 3 of the consultation, from which I would highlight Article 9 of the Framework Directive, which requires that:

‘spectrum allocation … based on objective, transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate criteria.’

The consultation covers a number of areas, which are summarised below.

Mobile competition assessment

The first substantive section of the Consultation considers the state of competition in the UK mobile market, then goes on to consider what actions should be taken in the context of the auction to promote competition. Building on Ofcom’s December 2009 Mobile Sector Assessment, Ofcom conclude that an open auction would risk future competition, particularly at the wholesale level, and therefore propose two measures:

  • floors which are designed to ensure that at least four bidders will obtain a sufficient amount of spectrum to be able to operate as (at least) a credible national wholesale mobile network; and
  • safeguard caps designed to ensure that no one operator can obtain significantly more spectrum than their competitors. The proposed caps being consulted on are 2 x 27.5 MHz of sub-1GHz spectrum and 2x 105 MHz of mobile spectrum in total.

How to secure adequate mobile coverage

Ofcom want to ensure that there is a minimum coverage level, but feel that it is not proportionate to include coverage obligations in all licences. They are therefore proposing that only one 800 MHz lot will have a coverage obligation – no doubt that obligation will be reflected in a lower auction price. The proposed coverage obligation will be to:

  • deploy an electronic communications network that is capable of providing mobile electronic communications services;
  • with a sustained downlink speed or not less than 2MBits/s;
  • with a 90% probability of indoor reception; and
  • to an area within which at least 95% of the UK’s population lives.

For those with long memories, this proposal directly picks up on one of the previous Government’s Digital Britain proposals.

Design of combined award

Ofcom propose a combinatorial clock auction with generic lots for bidders to aggregate, so I predict plenty of work for the various economics consultancies on auction strategy.

Generic lots will comprise:

  • various categories of 2 x 5 MHz lots in 800 MHz band;
  • a single category of 2 x 10 MHz lots in 2.6 GHz band for individual high power use; and
  • a potential category for low-power use by concurrent licensees in 2.6GHz band.

Licence conditions

Ofcom will consult separately on technical licence conditions. So far as non-technical conditions are concerned they propose that the licences will:

  • be UK wide;
  • be technology and service neutral;
  • permit spectrum trading;
  • be of indefinite duration, with very limited powers for Ofcom to revoke during the first twenty years; and
  • contain an obligation on licensees to provide Ofcom with usage information.

Setting existing 900 and 1800 MHz fees post-auction

Ofcom propose to use the auction prices as the basis for revised fees for existing 900 and 1800 MHz licences.

Next steps

The consultation closes on 31 May 2011, and Ofcom will hold a series of meetings and workshops whilst the consultation is open. In parallel, Ofcom plan to publish proposals which will deal with protection of adjacent DTT spectrum and on the technical conditions relating to the auctioned spectrum.

Ofcom expect to reach a decision in the autumn and to proceed to auction as soon as possible thereafter – likely in 2012.

Uncertainty for UK spectrum auctions as refarming permitted

Ofcom permits 2G spectrum refarming

Ofcom yesterday varied the spectrum licences of the UK’s three 2G spectrum licensees (EverythingEverywhere (JV between Orange and T-Mobile), Vodafone and O2) to permit them to use those frequencies for 3G services (mobile broadband) as well as 2G services (such as voice and SMS). 

For more detail see the Olswang update (thanks to Telecommentator).

Uncertainty about digital dividend and WiMax auctions remain

However, uncertainty still remains over the timetable, process and scope for challenge in relation to the proposed UK auctions for the digital dividend (800 MHz) and WiMax (2.6 GHz) spectrum.  The December 2010 Directions to Ofcom, which came into force on 30 December 2010 merely direct Ofcom to carry out a competition assessment (s8 of the Directions) and to auction 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum (s9 of the Directions).

Those who have been following the saga for some time, may be getting an eerie deja vu feeling right now, and I am reminded of the TV series Dallas where one season turned out to have been a dream.  When Ofcom originally tried to auction the 2.6 GHz spectrum it became bogged down in litigation, and pursuant to the Digital Britain initiative of the last government, the Independent Spectrum Broker identified proposals that could form the basis of detailed direction to Ofcom, thereby limiting the scope of Ofcom’s discretion and (the hope went), limiting the scope for challenging the exercise of that discretion.   We are now back to Ofcom having extensive discretion in terms of the auction process.  Stetson anyone?

Broadband aid (do they know it’s Christmas)

Re-reading yesterday’s post, I hope it wasn’t too close to a law firm client update – that is not being the point of this blog. I thought I’d try to redress the balance today, and as I drove from London to Exmoor for Christmas, with the snow by the side of the road steadily increasing, I once again found inspiration in 1980s music. It being that time of the year, the radio was playing back-to-back Christmas songs. Hearing Band Aid again reminded me both how if the cause is good enough how a bad song can become a hit as well as the importance of wireless to bridge the digital divide in the developing world.

Whilst the connection may not be immediately obvious, the macro-economic benefits of a connected society seem as important over the long-run as helping with short-term crises. It is clear that for many developing countries they have leap-frogged wired voice to mobile voice. Without a copper (or other fixed network in situ) that can be repurposed for some variant of DSL, then some type of wireless solution is likely to be answer for enabling broadband connectivity.

As with many industry debates, the proponents of LTE and WiMax will each tell you about the respective benefits of their technology without necessarily highlighting that the two approaches are more similar than might be supposed. It is a shame that there is not more common ground, but the availability of spectrum for wireless (but not necessarily mobile) broadband is a common shared interest.

However, the signs are encouraging. Governments do seem to get the point and even over the last year more and more spectrum is being made available. With investment into both developing countries and infrastructure increasing, my Christmas wish is that we will see an increasingly connected world.