Next generation mobile broadband

4g The 4G auction of mobile phone spectrum aims to ensure mobile broadband roll-out for at least 98 per cent of the overall UK population by the end of 2017.

Ofcom has concluded its public consultation on the largest ever auction of mobile phone spectrum and is preparing to sell 80 per cent more spectrum than that released in the 3G auction of 2000. Bidding is likely to commence at the end of the year, with 4G services likely to be offered to consumers during the first half of 2013.

At least two spectrum bands will be offered: 800MHz and 2.6GHz. The lower band is seen as ideal for widespread mobile coverage, while the higher frequency band allows for faster speeds.

At present, 55.9 per cent of people in Northern Ireland have 3G (the minimum necessary for mobile internet) mobile coverage, significantly lower than the overall UK figure of 77.3 per cent.

A £25 million upgrade of 2G and 3G networks here by Three UK, Everything Everywhere and Mobile Broadband Network Limited, however, is expected to increase 3G coverage to 94 per cent by the end of this year.

Ten lots of spectrum will be auctioned (and a possible further 25) between the two bands. One of the 800MHz spectrum lots will carry an obligation to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98 per cent of the overall UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest. The same operator will also be obliged to provide the same indoor service to at least 95 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland and all other regions.

Given that it is easier to provide coverage outdoors than indoors, Ofcom has estimated that any network providing this level of indoor coverage will also ensure outdoor coverage for over 99 per cent of the UK population.

Unveiling the plans in July, Ofcom’s Chief Executive Ed Richards said: “As a direct result of the measures Ofcom is introducing, consumers will be able to surf the web, stream videos and download email attachments on their mobile device from almost every home in the UK.”

To increase competition, the regulator is reserving a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator. In August, Ofcom approved an application from Everything Everywhere to use its existing 1,800MHz spectrum to deliver 4G services. Three UK will take over ownership of some of Everything Everywhere’s existing spectrum, but not until September 2013. Allowing the operator to launch first has irritated other operators.

Some digital terrestrial television viewers are likely to experience signal difficulties because of 4G services. In February, the Government announced a £180 million scheme to help householders mitigate the problem. It will provide help for householders with free filters and installations for those who need the filter fitted to a rooftop aerial.

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