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Ofcom to auction MoD spectrum later in 2015

Ofcom forges ahead with plans to release spectrum for high-speed mobile broadband services

Ofcom is to push ahead with plans to release a tranche of mobile spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 2.4GHz spectrum without delay.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is getting rid of the two spectrum bands under the terms of a government plan to liberate unused assets. Both bands are considered highly suitable for high-speed 4G broadband, and should therefore be of great interest to mobile network operators (MNOs).

Ofcom first invited bids for an auction in November 2014. However, since then the UK mobile sector has gone through significant upheaval as BT seeks to buy EE and Hutchison Whampoa seeks to buy O2, potentially reducing the UK wholesale mobile market down to three major operators.

Speed is of the essence

Although Ofcom has no say in whether those mergers go ahead, it retains a duty to secure the optimum use of spectrum; therefore it has now decided to award the frequencies “in a way that will allow consumers to enjoy greater access to high-capacity mobile internet without delay”.

It is now inviting bidders, which will almost certainly be the four current MNOs and possibly BT, to have their say on how the frequencies will be licensed and the auction mechanics.

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Potential bidders will also be asked to comment on an option to award most of the spectrum later in 2015, while holding back the remaining frequencies for later on.

Ofcom believes that this option may be preferable to awarding all of the spectrum at once, or waiting until the market settles down again.

20-year terms

In a statement, Ofcom said it would issue licences for both bands for an indefinite period, but said there would be an initial 20-year term, after which fees may become payable.

The regulator said there would be no coverage obligations placed on the 2.3GHz and 2.4GHz bands because the frequencies are better suited for high-capacity and faster speeds, as opposed to achieving wide geographical coverage.

The consultation will end on 26 June 2015.

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