Ofcom drags 4G auction into 2013

Ofcom has finally scheduled its much-delayed spectrum auction, but admits the process won’t be complete until well into 2013.

Ofcom drags 4G auction into 2013

The telecoms regulator had pushed back the auction multiple times; it was originally supposed to take place at the beginning of 2011.

The auction will now take place as soon as possible, Ofcom said, but not before a consultation that closes on 11 September. Ofcom said the application process will start before the end of this year, but the bidding likely won’t start until early 2013, with roll out starting in the middle of the year and commercial services to follow.

Ofcom is guaranteeing a minimum slice of spectrum for “a fourth operator” – in order to ensure the available spectrum isn’t gobbled up entirely by the big three networks: O2, Vodafone, and Everything Everywhere, the joint-venture between T-Mobile and Orange.

While that’s likely to mean smaller rival Three, Ofcom said it could be a “new entrant altogether”.

Ofcom is selling spectrum from two bands, 800MHz and 2.6GHz, which can be used to extend mobile coverage and boost speeds, respectively. It will add 250MHz to the existing 333MHz already in use by mobile operators.

The spectrum will come with obligations. One of the lots of 800MHz spectrum will require buyers to offer at least 98% indoor population coverage for mobile broadband by 2017 – and a minimum of 95% in each of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – which Ofcom expects will force other operators to “extend their own coverage in response”.

Ofcom said the timetable doesn’t mean the process has been delayed. “Ofcom’s statement on the 4G auction does not represent any delay; it is entirely consistent with our proposals published in January,” a spokesperson said. “Ofcom expects the auction process to start before the end of this year with prospective bidders required to apply formally to take part.”

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