Ofcom has been urged to increase 4G mobile coverage in next year's radio spectrum auction.
Industry watchdog the Communications Consumer Panel (CCP) wants Ofcom to achieve 98% coverage across the country, which would require around 1,400 additional base stations at an approximate cost of £250m.
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"The sum required, although large, will be small in comparison with the overall revenue generated by the auction," said the CCP. The current coverage target is 95% by 2017.
The panel was responding to an Ofcom consultation document on the combined spectrum award and coverage issues in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency ranges.
The auction, due to be held in the first half of 2012, will be the largest ever single award of radio spectrum in the UK - 80% more spectrum will be released than the 3G auction held in 2000, equivalent to 75% of the mobile spectrum in use today. The 4G services, such as LTE and WiMAX, promise speeds approaching those of today's fixed-line broadband,
Panel chair Bob Warner said: "This is a critical moment, and we have a unique opportunity to resolve the persistent problem of inadequate mobile coverage."
The CCP suggested that Ofcom could run a reverse auction, where mobile operators would bid for public money to provide increased coverage to rural areas once the spectrum auction is complete.
On the issue of mobile "not-spots", the panel warned the lack of coverage is creating significant harm to a large number of people living in the not-spots or passing through them.
"Most coverage not-spots 10 years ago are still not-spots today. The Panel remains extremely concerned about the mobile coverage available under 2G and 3G and strongly encourages Ofcom to explore what interventions could extend existing 2G as well as 3G/4G coverage," it said.
The recommendation follows a recent call from MPs to extend 4G coverage to 98% of the population. Rory Stewart, Tory MP for Penrith and The Border, said raising the coverage area before the bid was crucial, as companies will have no incentive to increase coverage once the spectrum auction is complete.
Ofcom recently proposed using radio spectrum freed up from the switchover from analogue to digital TV to deliver mobile broadband to sparsely populated areas, as a partial solution to the problem of rural coverage.