The Government finally gave the go-ahead to the much delayed auction of new radio spectrum for the mobile phone industry yesterday.
The move will allow mobile operators to build the next generation 4G network, which will provide faster and better mobile and broadband coverage.
Minister for Communications Ed Vaizey announced that a statutory instrument had been laid down in Parliament to implement the spectrum modernisation. He has instructed the regulator Ofcom to co-ordinate a combined auction of 2.6GHz and 800MHz spectrum ‘as soon as possible’, although this is not expected to take place until the end of next year.
The proposals also allow operators to ‘refarm’ their 2G spectrum for 3G purposes and extend existing 3G licences indefinitely for a fee to be set by Ofcom.
The new statutory instrument is a simplified version of that proposed by the previous Government, which failed to make it through Parliament before the last election. The measures include:
• Requiring OFCOM to co-ordinate a combined auction of 2.6GHz and 800MHz spectrum as soon as possible in order that operators can deliver widespread high speed mobile broadband;
• Requiring OFCOM to carry out a competitive assessment of future 3G and 4G markets, including the potential for new entrants. Their assessment will inform the design of the auction, aimed at enabling delivery of new competitive mobile broadband services for UK consumer and business benefit;
• Liberalising 2G spectrum at 900MHz and 1800MHz, implementing the EU’s revised GSM directive to allow operators to use these frequencies for 3G technologies;
• Making 3G licences indefinite to encourage greater investment in 3G services to reach more consumers across the UK. They will also be made tradable, and;
• Requiring Ofcom to apply annual licence fees to reflect the market value of these licences which will be applied after the initial licence term (ends 31 December 2021).
Vodafone CEO Guy Laurence welcomed the announcement, saying: ‘This is a smart move from the new Government, which has taken the time to consider the complex and far reaching implications of spectrum allocation in the UK.
‘We are looking forward to working constructively with Ofcom to ensure that network operators have a fair opportunity to buy the spectrum required to compete effectively in the UK market. A timely resolution is in the interests of developing and supporting the economy and delivering advanced mobile services to customers.’
Vaizey said: ‘Under our plan, our mobile industry will have access to the 21st Century infrastructure it needs to give UK consumers the latest technologies and even better coverage for broadband on their mobile phones.’