Mixed response to Ofcom spectrum refarming


Ofcom has announced that from today (January 6) operators will be allowed to use spectrum previously only allocated to 2G to implement 3G services, increasing mobile internet speeds and usage in the process

Ofcom has announced the airwaves used by mobile phone operators for 2G services will from today (January 6) become available to operators to use for 3G services including mobile internet.

The relaxation of the spectrum regulations now allows Vodafone and O2 to ‘re-farm’ the 900MHz spectrum they have while Everything Everywhere will be able to do the same with its 1800MHz spectrum.

The move was welcomed by Vodafone and O2, who said it would benefit their customers significantly.

Everything Everywhere responded: “Today’s announcement comes as no surprise, and follows on as a matter of course from the Government’s recent Direction. However, we urge Ofcom to ensure that the sub-1GHz duopoly that currently exists is rebalanced through the rules for the forthcoming Spectrum auctions.

“Only then can the UK remain a fair and competitive market to stimulate investment and innovation for the long term digital future and leadership of Britain.”

Three, which has no 2G network, claimed it would give an “unfair competitive advantage” to larger networks.

Operators could until now only use a limited amount of spectrum to deliver 3G services due to licensing agreements laid out in the 1990s, which stipulated the rest of the spectrum held could only be used for 2G services such as voice calls and text messages.

According to Ofcom the move will bring greater network capacity and coverage allowing customers to enjoy faster mobile internet speeds, a larger area of use and improved in-building coverage.

Three UK chief executive Kevin Russell said: “By opening up these existing frequencies to 3G services without re-auctioning or re-allocating them, or making a clear commitment as to how similar frequencies will be made available in future, Ofcom and the Government are jeopardising the whole competitive environment that the 3G auction in 2000 started to establish.

Healthy competition is critical for UK consumers using mobile services and Ofcom and the Government must address the significant competitive distortions they have now created in pushing through the re-farm of spectrum currently used for 2G mobile services. This can only now be done through the structure of the spectrum auction planned for 2012.

“The competitive benefits of spectrum consolidation and concentration was a key driver in last year’s merger of Orange and T-Mobile. If the Government and Ofcom get this wrong further consolidation could result. Ultimately that can only be bad, not good, for UK consumers.”

However there was a more positive response from Vodafone chief executive Guy Laurence who was the first to welcome the changes: “ We welcome this change to our spectrum licence. It will bring significant benefits to our customers in the form of faster and better mobile broadband with wider rural coverage and stronger in-building signal,” he said.

A spokesperson for O2 meanwhile said the announcement meant it could begin the rollout of its 3G service on the 900mHz spectrum.

“We welcome the conclusion of Ofcom’s licensing procedure and can now begin the process for deploying UMTS900,” they said.