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Mobile spectrum auction for UK ‘soon’

28 июля 2010

Mobile operators will finally be able to bid for new spectrum next year to enable improved wireless broadband services, after protracted delays to the auction process.

The UK government on Tuesday laid down a statutory instrument instructing Ofcom, the communications regulator, to co-ordinate a combined auction of 2.1GHz and 800MHz spectrum “as soon as possible”.

 “Under our plans, our mobile industry will have access to the 21st-century infrastructure it needs to give UK consumers the latest technologies and even better coverage for broadband on their mobile phones,” said Ed Vaizey, the communications minister.

The government hopes the airwaves auction will take place by the end of 2011. But operators and analysts said it had left unanswered many of the mobile industry’s concerns about how the process is handled.

Under the coalition’s plans, operators will be able to “refarm” 2G spectrum, in the 900MHz and 1800MHz ranges, for new 3G services. Existing 3G licences will be extended indefinitely, although holders will have to pay annual licence fees at a price to be set by Ofcom.

O2 welcomed the move to allow it to use its 900MHz spectrum for 3G, but Three, the UK’s smallest operator, said that it could affect competition.

“It is critical for UK consumers that in setting out the auction process Ofcom addresses the distortions now created by allowing the incumbent operators to retain full access to 2G spectrum,” said Kevin Russell, chief executive of Three UK. “Competition puts mobile broadband into the hands of millions, without it service quality and price will be jeopardised.”

Other operators are still considering their responses to the proposals.

Ofcom said it was “looking forward to getting the mobile spectrum modernisation programme moving”.

The regulator has been trying to do that for several years. The previous government did not succeed in securing parliamentary approval to begin the auction process before the election was called. In May, O2 began legal action against Ofcom for taking too long to rule on whether it could use old spectrum for new 3G services.

“The UK has moved from a position where it was leading Europe on some of these issues to where it is now behind,” said Lee Sanders, partner at Analysys Mason, a consultancy.

“Ofcom has been trying to auction the 2.6GHz spectrum for three years now,” he said. “Six other European countries have awarded the spectrum while Ofcom has been struggling. From the industry’s point of view, this is welcome news to get things moving finally. But any potential new entrant may be concerned that this is still going through without any new changes to what was originally planned.”

Potential new mobile operators, which could include BT, said last year that proposals from Kip Meek, the independent spectrum broker, failed to offer sufficient opportunity for new entrants to bid for spectrum.

Источник: Financial Times

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