Ofcom has announced a new set of plans to extend the roll out of 4G LTE coverage in this country to encompass 98% of the UK population.
That, along with plans to promote competition in the mobile arena, are the two main thrusts of Ofcom’s latest consultation on the 4G roll out process, which will run over the next ten weeks (the consultation that is, not the 4G roll out).
The previous consultation on the matter last year, which took place between March and May, elicited feedback on how the 4G spectrum auction will affect the mobile industry and competition within it in the future. And the latest consultation has been crafted based on that feedback.
Ofcom is proposing that a condition which was attached to one of the 800MHz licenses in the 2011 consultation, obliging the holder to ensure its 4G network is rolled out to 95% of the UK, be extended to 98% coverage. This is following the announcement of government plans to invest £150 million in boosting UK mobile coverage, which will help that extra push in reaching commercially non-viable areas with 4G.
A second option is also on the table. Ofcom states: “The first option is to increase the obligation to 98% of the UK by population.” “However, the second and potentially more effective option, is to require that one 800MHz operator provides 4G coverage that not only matches existing 2G coverage but also extends into mobile ‘not spot’ areas of the UK where the £150m will provide infrastructure capable of supporting 4G coverage.”
“This may have the potential to extend 4G mobile coverage even further than 98% of the UK by population.” Furthermore, Ofcom notes that the second option would be preferable in terms of ensuring the provider covered areas where the next-gen mobile broadband services would be most needed, as opposed to areas where it would be easiest to implement.
In terms of fair competition when it comes to the UK’s 4G mobile roll out, Ofcom is planning to reserve some of the 2.6GHz spectrum to be “shared by a group of companies to deliver innovative new mobile services for consumers”.
For example, local mobile networks on university campuses.
Ofcom also notes it believes that there must be at least four national wholesalers of mobile services active in the 4G arena to maintain healthy competition and therefore price levels for consumers.
Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, commented: “The UK benefits from being one of the most competitive mobile phone markets in Europe. This means that consumers pay less for mobile communications services and have the choice to shop around for packages that suit them best.” “As the UK enters a new generation of mobile communications, Ofcom’s objective is to promote effective competition and to stimulate both investment and innovation.”
“In addition we are proposing a significant enhancement of mobile broadband, extending 4G coverage beyond levels of existing 2G coverage – helping to serve many areas of the UK that have traditionally been underserved by network coverage.” The 4G auction will start in the fourth quarter of this year, meaning 4G services won’t be available in the UK until late in 2013 at the earliest. Services won’t be available on a widespread basis until 2015, most likely.