UK regulator plans military spectrum auction


Ofcom outlines next steps for high capacity spectrum that could be used to deliver mobile broadband

UK regulator, Ofcom, has today published an update on plans to release valuable new military airwaves that could be used to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband services.

The spectrum to be auctioned is currently used by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, and is being made available as part of a wider Government initiative to free up public sector spectrum for civil uses.

The 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum bands are being released for civil use and could be suitable for providing very high data capacity. Under decisions announced today, Ofcom would issue licences for the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz bands for an indefinite period, but with an initial term of 20 years after which licence fees may be payable.

There will be no coverage obligations placed on this spectrum. This is because the frequencies being auctioned are better suited for high capacity and faster speeds, in densely populated areas using a high number of base stations, rather than achieving wide geographical coverage.

Since Ofcom’s last consultation on the auction, BT has announced plans to buy EE, while Hutchison Whampoa, which owns Three, has reached agreement to acquire O2 from its current owner Telefonica. If the latter merger goes ahead it would reduce the UK wholesale mobile market from four major operators to three.

It is not Ofcom’s role to decide whether these mergers should go ahead as this rests with the relevant competition authorities, either the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) or the European Commission. However, Ofcom noted it has a duty to secure the optimum use of spectrum.

Decisions announced today will help Ofcom set the groundwork for the spectrum award, including how these frequencies will be licensed and the mechanics of the auction.

Potential bidders are also being asked for their views on how to best proceed with the auction; they are being asked to comment on an option where Ofcom would award most of the newly available spectrum later this year, or early in 2016. The remaining frequencies would be held back for award at a later date.

This approach may be preferable to the alternatives of either awarding all of the spectrum, or delaying the award, although both those options remain open. Ofcom will determine later in the year the best approach to making the spectrum available, following stakeholder responses and the condition of the market.

The closing date for this consultation is 26 June.


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