Ofcom gives mobile spectrum trading go-ahead


Move given green light, with the new regulations covering 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100 MHz spectrum

Regulatory authority Ofcom has given the go-ahead for mobile phone operators to trade rights to the radio spectrum they hold, in a measure it said is aimed at helping increase mobile network capacity and deliver faster and more reliable mobile services for consumers.

The new regulations, which cover spectrum at 900MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz, are aimed at giving operators added flexibility, which could help them meet the growing need for mobile data.

Ofcom said that for example it will allow operators with a greater need for spectrum to make offers for spectrum from those who need it less. It is hoped that this added flexibility will help operators respond more efficiently to demand.

Over the past two decades, mobile phone companies in the UK have acquired licences for blocks of spectrum. In general, the more spectrum an operator holds, the more telephone conversations and internet traffic it can carry over its network.

Not all operators hold the same amount of spectrum, and the level of demand for mobile services also differs from area to area.

Ofcom said that by allowing operators to trade their spectrum, it believes there will be a greater opportunity to use it more efficiently, which will therefore bring benefits to citizens and consumers in terms of improved mobile services.

As part of a wider initiative to promote improvements for mobile services, the Government directed Ofcom to make mobile spectrum licences tradeable in December 2010, and it has now made the regulations necessary for this to happen.

Ofcom will be responsible for the administration of spectrum trades – publishing the details of proposed trades online, confirming that they are acceptable, and then issuing revised licences to implement the trades.

It must also take into account whether competition is likely to be distorted before deciding whether or not to consent to a trade of mobile spectrum.

A Three spokesman said: “Spectrum is the lifeblood of smartphones and the mobile internet and for those with surplus holdings it is also a strategic asset, so voluntary trading is the exception. This move simply allows those who have been gifted access to public spectrum to profit from it, with no benefit for UK taxpayers.

“Ofcom’s ambition to deliver faster and more capable services to consumers is best served by a truly competitive allocation of this public asset.”