The auction of radio frequencies needed to introduce the next generation of high-speed mobile telephones looks like slipping by at least three months into the middle of 2012.
In March this year communications regulator Ofcom, which is designing the auction, said it hoped to start the auction in Q1 2012, subject to responses to a consultation published then.
Mobile learned today that Ofcom expects the start date to slip into the first half of the year.
Mobile was told the auction design is unlikely to be finished much before the end of the year. An Ofcom spokesman said the regulator would make a statement then. It would include details of the auction design. Operators had been expecting the auction design to be published in about a month’s time.
When Ofcom published its initial proposals in March, some mobile operators believed they were illegal. O2 said Ofcom’s proposed spectrum 'floors', designed to ensure that four operators survived the auction, amounted to illegal state aid under European rules.
‘The proposed floors, and the argument that Vodafone and ourselves already have enough sub-1GHz spectrum, are based on the mistaken belief that 800MHz and 900MHz are directly comparable spectrums. They are not,’ O2 said at the time.
Vodafone then claimed Ofcom was guaranteeing some 800MHz spectrum to Everything Everywhere to protect Three, the smallest of the UK’s five mobile network operators.
This week Three promised to give some rural communities free access to broadband. Competitors condemned the move as currying favour with politicians and regulators.
The auction is for two spectrum bands, 800MHz and 2.6GHz. The 800MHz band is part of the spectrum released as the UK switches from analogue to digital TV. The 2.6GHz band is better suited to delivering high-speed traffic over short distances. The two bands will add up to 250MHz of extra mobile spectrum.
Ofcom to progress use of 'white space' spectrum
Meanwhile, Ofcom said today it will set in motion moves to make the 'white space' or unused spectrum between TV and FM radio broadcasts freely available for other purposes. Commercial use of the spectrum could start in 2013, it said.
It intended to license companies to build the databases needed to keep track of who was using what spectrum, when, for how long and at what power. This data would then control the broadcast of unlicensed signals. This was to avoid interfering with licensed broadcasters such as digital terrestrial TV broadcasters and wireless microphone users which use neighbouring frequencies.
Ofcom said: ‘White spaces could provide new capacity while boosting the range of devices, potentially enabling Wi-Fi networks that stretch across towns and cities.’
Most Wi-Fi works in the 2.4GHz band, which means signals have a very limited range. The new white space Wi-Fi devices would use frequencies in the 470MHz and 790MHz bands, which gives them much greater range.