Ofcom extends rural obligation for UK 4G auction winner

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has outlined new proposals to extend 4G coverage to at least 98 per cent of the population.

Last year, Ofcom proposed that a condition should be attached to one of the 800MHz licences up for grabs, which would oblige the holder to roll out a 4G network that provides coverage to 95 per cent of the UK population.

Now, following news that the government will invest £150m to boost mobile coverage in areas with poor or no mobile service – with part of that figure to be spent on building new mobile infrastructure in areas where there is little or no commercial incentive for operators to do so – Ofcom believes that this condition can be strengthened in one of two ways.

The first option is to increase the obligation for coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population. The second and, in Ofcom’s view a potentially more effective option, is to require that one of the 800MHz spectrum licenses has a condition that forces the buyer to provide 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 to 98 per cent of the population, according to Ofcom.

“This second option would make it more likely that mobile broadband services would be provided in locations where they could be most valued by consumers, rather than in those areas where it is easiest for a licensee to meet the obligation,” the regulator wrote in a statement.

Arqiva owns all of the UK’s terrestrial TV and radio networks and around 20 per cent of the mobile network infrastructure in the country. It will likely play a major role in getting 4G to not-spots in the UK, as it aims to act as a neutral host for operators to provide broadband, and hopes to give a choice of providers to those living in rural areas. Alastair Davidson, director of mobile, said he was very encouraged by Ofcom’s proposal, hailing it as a “significant milestone”.

However, he suggested that Ofcom should make sure the 98 per cent coverage obligation is applied to all the operators who win 800 MHz spectrum.

“If Ofcom decides to place the coverage obligation on only one operator, many consumers in rural areas will receive a second-tier broadband service, denied the benefits of competition available to those who live elsewhere,” he said.

But he added: “This auction provides an opportunity for the whole country to benefit from high-speed data networks and we very much hope that it can now proceed without further delay.” The UK is trailing behind many other mature markets, especially in Europe, that have already auctioned 4G spectrum.

One comment

  1. Avatar cyberdoyle 14/01/2012 @ 9:05 am

    Ofcom is handling this yes?
    If 4G is as good as they say it is many people already using mobiles for most of their calls will ditch the landline for their broadband.
    Ofcom is parping about stalling the process in order to protect the copper cabal?

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