Ireland unlocks additional spectrum to combat COVID-19

Irish authorities have signed new regulations allowing the release of additional radio spectrum to create extra capacity for mobile phone and broadband services.

Signed by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton and ComReg, the Irish telco regulator, the temporary measures are in response to a sharp increase in the use of mobile networks. The telco networks are currently standing up to the additional demand, though extra help will always be welcomed.

“Now, more than ever we are depending on technology to connect with others and to access services,” said Minister Bruton. “These regulations will ensure that our mobile network operators have the capacity to accommodate the increase in demand. I’d like to thank ComReg for responding to this need so quickly.”

The additional spectrum was released following a consultation with Eir, Three, Vodafone and Virgin Media, along with RTÉ and the Irish Aviation Authority, which was published on March 27. In contrast to the usual state of play in the telco industry, this is an example of rapid action in response to a very difficult environment.

“The provision of this spectrum will help the mobile providers cater for increased demand on their networks,” said ComReg Commissioner Jeremy Godfrey.

“ComReg will continue to work with industry and will support operators so that telecoms networks may continue to meet demand during these unprecedented times. I wish to pay particular tribute to the dedication and skill of ComReg’s staff in completing such a complicated project with such great professionalism and in such a short time.”

The additional airwaves will be released in the 700 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum bands, with changed conditions for 2.1 GHz to ensure it can be used for 4G connectivity. Telcos will be able to apply for temporary licences that run for a maximum of three months, for a fee of €100, with the options to extend the licences should it be required in the future.

Ireland is not the first country to release additional spectrum, the FCC offered assistance to AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon in the US, though many European telcos have said they do not necessarily require the additional airwaves to maintain networks today.

Ofcom, the UK regulator has said it does not plan to release additional spectrum and it has not had any appeals to do so either. Mobile UK, the telco association in the UK, also confirmed operators are not seeking additional spectrum. In Italy, Telecom Italia also said it has made no requests, while Orange also confirmed it has adequate spectrum for today’s operations so would not be making any requests.

Although this seemingly not developing into a pan-European trend, it is somewhat comforting to see a regulator responding promptly. It is very out of character for the telecommunications industry.

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