Ofcom under fire for yet another 4G auction delay

Ofcom has come under fire for further delaying the auction for 4G spectrum licenses, a move that will leave Britain lagging behind international rivals for high-speed mobile broadband.

Ofcom under fire for yet another 4G auction delay

The protracted auction process had already been pushed back once – now the telecoms regulator has decided to undertake a further consultation period before operators can bid for allocations in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands.

“Between March and May of this year we consulted on our assessment of likely future competition in mobile markets and proposals for award of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands,” Ofcom said in a statement.

“We received a number of substantial and strongly argued responses to this consultation. In light of these responses, and the significance of the decisions that we need to take we have decided to undertake a further round of consultation on these issues.”

Some of the behaviour is not helping and the current operators are putting profits first – for them data isn’t worth anything

As a result, the auction may not even be completed next year, with the regulator admitting that the auction itself would follow a fresh statement on the next round of consultation to be published next August, with the actual auction “a few months later – perhaps starting in Q4 2012”.

Having found respondents in conflict – particularly the major carriers that have the most to win or lose from grabbing chunks of spectrum to deliver 4G services, while still protecting their existing 3G investments – Ofcom has effectively asked for more time to assess the landscape.

While the auction is hugely important to the UK’s wireless future, there is growing concern that industry infighting will continue to push the actual launch of services ever further back at a time when campaign groups estimate that delays are already costing UK PLC £732 million a year.

“Some of the behaviour is not helping and the current operators are putting profits first – for them data isn’t worth anything,” James Firth, CEO of policy think tank Open Digital, told PC Pro. “Ofcom and the Government need to get the spectrum allocated as soon as possible.”

Four-month delay

The sense that the regulator is bending over backwards to keep the industry onside is supported by small network providers, who argue that Ofcom should have made the decision for a second consultation much earlier.

“It is all about money,” said Trefor Davies, CTO of communications provider Timico, on a company blog. “As an investor in this market I am in the game to make money too. Ofcom and HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] need to make sure the balance is right for UK PLC.

“I accept that this is a very important decision to get right, but we really can’t afford to lose any more time on this one. It’s taken Ofcom four months to decide on this delay.”

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