UK outlines plans to auction 4G spectrum

UK communications regulator Ofcom has finally been given the go ahead to move forward with the auctioning of 4G spectrum, as well as the refarming of 2G spectrum so it can be used for 3G services. However, ongoing delays have put the country behind other parts of Western Europe and operators are unlikely to get their hands on the attractive 2.6GHz band before 2012.

On Wednesday, the UK’s Minister for Communications, Ed Vaizey, tasked Ofcom with a spectrum modernisation programme that will result in the combined auction of the 2.6GHz and digital dividend 800MHz spectrum as well as the liberalisation and refarming of 2G spectrum at 900MHz and 1800MHz to allow operators to use these frequencies for 3G technologies.

However, the auctions will not take place until late 2011 at the earliest, putting the UK behind other European nations such as Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden, which have already awarded 2.6GHz spectrum and in some cases, seen it in commercial use. The UK initiative has to date been hamstrung by operator disputes over how the spectrum should be awarded, as well as the recent change in UK Government.

Under the initiative, Ofcom will also make 3G licences indefinite to encourage greater investment; make these licenses tradable; but to apply annual licence fees to reflect the market value of these licences (to be applied after the initial licence term ends on December 31, 2021).

There will also be a “generous compensation package” to support the Programme Making and Special Events users (PMSE) – such as musicians and theatres, which are being evicted from the 800MHz spectrum they currently use for wireless microphones for example. The funding will make a significant contribution to the costs of upgrading equipment to suit a new operating frequency from 2012.

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