23/03/2011

Ofcom announces plans for 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum auctions

Ofcom the communications regulator has announced how it intends to auction the 800MHz band (which is currently used to deliver analogue TV signals) and the 2.6GHz band (which was reserved for future 3G use). The amount of spectrum available for auction is 250MHz which is equivalent to 3/4 of all the mobile spectrum available today and 80% more than the spectrum awarded to the 3G licensees.

Though the spectrum will be made available in a technology neutral manner (i.e. the winner of the spectrum can use it for whatever they want - as long as they meet the technical criteria and don't do anything silly), it's expected that it will be used for 4G services such as LTE or WiMAX and deliver mobile broadband services.

800MHz is considered prime spectrum as it has very good propagation characteristics i.e. it can travel long distance and penetrates buildings well (so anyone who can receive analogue TV services could get broadband), Alcatel-Lucent are already trialling LTE-800 (i.e. LTE services on 800MHz) in Wales as reported in a previous article.

2.6GHz can carry more data (and there's more spectrum available) but it's better for localised high bandwidth services as it doesn't carry as far (it's worse then the existing 3G coverage). However a licensee could use the band for 3G services as 3G phones should scan this band when looking for 3G signals.

Ofcom are proposing to put both spectrum caps and spectrum floors when auctioning the spectrum so that the existing 2G operators cant get too much spectrum sub 1GHz (i.e. 1000MHz) - this really only affects O2 and Vodafone, who's 2G network was provisioned on 900MHz (Orange and T-Mobile got 1800MHz or 1.8GHz which again doesn't propagate as well as 900MHz which is slightly worse than 800MHz). The floors are there to ensure there's enough spectrum to run sensible broadband services over. Ofcom plan to offer at least 4 licenses of which some are expected to be new entrants (by capping the amount of spectrum owned in total the existing MNOs are restricted in grabbing all the new spectrum).

There's a slight fly in the ointment as when T-Mobile and Orange combined to form Everything Everywhere, they had to give back some of their 1800Mhz spectrum to comply with EU competition rules and Ofcom have thrown this excess spectrum in the pot too.

The Ofcom consultation closes on 31st May 2011 and stakeholders are invited to comment here.

The spectrum cant be made available prior to the digital switch-over as the 800MHz band will still be used for analogue TV until then and also Ofcom has made the 2.6GHz band available for use by wireless cameras in the forthcoming 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics.