Ofcom launches consultation on liberalising 4G spectrum

Vodafone and 3 have asked Ofcom to allow 4G connectivity across their existing spectrum

Ofcom has launched a consultation to look into liberalising spectrum bands owned by the major mobile operators, allowing them to use their existing frequencies for 4G.  

The consultation came as a result of letters sent from Vodafone and 3 to the telecoms regulator, requesting the freedom to use their 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands for 4G connectivity.

Current regulations state the frequencies can only be used by the two firms for 2G or 3G networks.

Back in August 2012, however, Ofcom signed off on a consultation allowing mobile operator EE to repurpose its 1800MHz spectrum, making it the only operator in the UK capable of offering a 4G network and upsetting its rivals.

This latest document shows Ofcom is in favour of Vodafone and 3’s requests, proposing the liberalisation of all three bands. 

“This will meet a longstanding objective to liberalise all mobile licences so that there are no regulatory barriers to the deployment of the latest available mobile technology,” it said.

But Ovum telecoms regulation analyst Matthew Howett said it would still be some time before the spectrum was ready to use.

“Despite operators being able to deploy 4G services in these bands previously restricted to 2G and 3G technologies, most are unlikely to do so in the short term,” he said.

“They would first need to be cleared of their existing use through a process of refarming, which would probably take years rather than months, so the spectrum that is currently being auctioned by Ofcom will most likely be used for Vodafone, O2 and 3’s initial deployment of 4G services,” said Howett.

If passed, the consultation will also allow operators to use more power at base stations running on the 900MHz frequency – an extra request made my Vodafone and O2.

The consultation will close at 5pm on 29 March.

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