Friday, November 12, 2010

UK 4G spectrum auction will be held mid-2011

Auctioning spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands would allow mobile operators to roll out much faster mobile broadband services than the 3G services currently available, with speeds going up to 100Mbps or roughy double that of HSPA+, the most advanced version of 3G. The 4G spectrum auction was originally scheduled for 2008.

In an answer given last Thursday to a parliamentary question, under-secretary of state Ed Vaizey — who works across the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) — said the government hoped to make an announcement about the future of mobile broadband internet by the end of the summer recess. This was apparently a mistake.

A BIS spokesperson told ZDNet UK on Monday that Vaizey had meant to refer to the start of the summer recess — which begins on 29 July — rather than the end, adding that the announcement would be that of the laying down of a statutory instrument (SI) "setting out the decision on the future of spectrum modernisation". The actual auction will probably take place "around a year from now", the spokesperson said.According to industry sources, Vaizey is unlikely to lay down a new SI, but will rather pick up an existing SI that was laid down by the Labour government before the May general election. That piece of secondary legislation would make it possible for operators that hold 2G/GSM spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands to 'refarm' that spectrum for 3G services — currently only allowed in the 2.1GHz band.

The spectrum that will go up for auction is a 72MHz wide slice in the 800MHz band — currently used for analogue services, but due to be freed up in the digital TV switchover — and a 190MHz wide slice in 2.6GHz band. Services that could be run in these bands include the long-term evolution (LTE) of 3G and WiMax, although the former technology has gained much more operator backing in Europe than the latter.

Operators such as O2 and T-Mobile have argued that they cannot value the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum for bidding until they know whether they can refarm their 2G spectrum for 3G services. Different operators hold differing amounts of 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum, making it trickier for Ofcom and the government to establish a fair system for spectrum refarming that will not overly benefit one operator over another.

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