Last March we reported on Ofcom’s announcement of a consultation process getting under way
regarding the best way to dole out the 4G spectrum. It was a positive move, but
news today that the auction to sell off the spectrum has been delayed, is less encouraging.
The UK is
already lagging behind a lot of other European countries (Sweden and Germany) as well as the US and Japan in
providing a next generation mobile network and Ofcom has now confirmed that the
largest ever spectrum auction has been delayed.
While a trial is due to begin in South Newquay this month of an LTE network, a national 4G
network is still years away.
Ofcom was expected to publish the terms of the auction this
month but that document has now been delayed until November. “We are still
aiming for the first half of next year. However, we have always maintained it
is an ambitious timescale,” an Ofcom spokesman said. The auction had been
due to take place in the first quarter of 2012.
This delay will be of most concern to Three as the other major mobile
operators (O2, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere) have spare spectrum which
they can reallocate from making phone calls to data activities such as internet
access – and therefore meet the growing needs as more and more people use their mobile phone and tablets to access the internet.
Three has no spare spectrum to allocate and will run out of
capacity a lot quicker than its rivals – especially as Three is the last
operator to offer truly unlimited data packages.
With the auction delayed, successful bidders will only be
able to roll out 4G services toward the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014.
The government will want to move this process forward as fast as possible,
since it promised blanket broadband coverage across the UK by the time of the next election.
With fibre and copper connections unlikely to be able to
reach many rural areas by that stage, next generation mobile broadband could be
The Ofcom spokesman added: “This is a complex area, involving a large
number of technical and competition issues that we need to consider and resolve
before finalising proposals. For example, a very high proportion of households
in the UK
rely on Digital Terrestrial TV – Freeview – which needs to be relocated before
4G can be rolled out.”
“We note that because these technical issues need to be satisfactorily
resolved before new networks can be built, it will not be possible for mobile
operators to start rolling out 4G networks until 2013 at the earliest
regardless of when the auction itself actually takes place.”