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Ofcom outlines plans for 4G mobile broadband spectrum auction

Tuesday, March 22nd 2011 by Paul France

The regulator is keen to bring the mobile technology to consumers as soon as possible.

Ofcom has announced plans to sell off additional spectrum in a bid to give a substantial boost to existing mobile broadband speeds.

The UK's telecoms industry watchdog revealed the proposals will involve the largest ever single auction of additional spectrum ever seen in this country. The amount of capacity on offer is 80 per cent more than the 3G frequency offered up in 2000.

Network operators need to get access to these airwaves in order to provide the fourth generation (4G) of mobile services, which will enable consumers to browse the internet while they are on the move at speeds that approach current home broadband lines.

Facilities such as video streaming, instant messaging, mapping and social networking sites have seen a significant surge in popularity among mobile users in recent times, making this spectrum auction essential, Ofcom explained.

The plans include the sale of 250MHz of additional capacity from two airwave bands - 800MHz and 2.6GHz. The lower 800MHz frequency has been freed up by the switchover from analogue to digital TV and is ideal for ensuring widespread mobile broadband coverage to 95 per cent of the population.

Meanwhile, the 2.6GHz band will help deliver higher speeds and meet the high demand for data services witnessed in urban areas across the country.

Measures have been set out by the regulator to ensure all four carriers - 3 Mobile, Everything Everywhere, O2 and Vodafone - cannot get an unfair commercial advantage from snapping up the bulk of the available spectrum.

It has proposed introducing minimum and maximum amounts that can be won by each bidder, warning that if less than four companies are able to provide "credible" data services then competition in the sector would be at risk.

Ofcom is aiming to start the auction in the first quarter of 2012.

Ed Richards, chief executive of the body, said: "The auction is not only critical to the future of the UK mobile telecommunications market, but it is also of significant importance to the wider economy.

"It will support a wide range of data services that are fast becoming essential features of the modern world."

Speaking at the 2010 FT World Telecoms Conference last November, Mr Richards warned the network operators that any legal action against the government or Ofcom could result in further delays to the availability of 4G technology. 

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