Operators set mandatory coverage targets as part of spectrum auction

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Ofcom director of strategy Clive Carter outlined the strategy during a conference discussing telecom regulation

Network operators could for the first time be set mandatory coverage targets, as part of bidding conditions for spectrum, from 2018.

The proposals were outlined to Mobile News by Ofcom director of strategy Clive Carter during a conference discussing telecom regulation in London earlier this month.

Carter, told Mobile News the regulator remained concerned by the number of not-spot areas in the UK, and that mandatory coverage targets is one way of helping to eliminate them in the future.

“Mobile coverage is one of our key focus points,” said Carter. “We do see a continued role for Ofcom through coverage obligations and spectrum licenses to again increase the coverage of services to customers both in terms of population and geographic coverage. Clearly there are key areas where Ofcom needs to intervene in the market to help protect customers, but also to promote investment.”

Future obligations

The plans, if confirmed, will be first deployed during the 700MHz spectrum auction, which is expected to take place in 2018 at the earliest. The 700MHz spectrum is considered the most suitable for coverage across wider rural areas. Ofcom has no plans at this stage to impose the same rules on 2.3 and 3.4Ghz spectrum availability, due to take place later this year.

Ofcom refused to define the nature of future obligations, meaning they could be around either geographic coverage or population coverage, saying these details will be shared nearer the time.

It follows a deal struck with O2 during the 2013 4G spectrum auction that saw the operator pay £550million for 2x10MHz of spectrum at 800MHz but agreeing to hit 98 per cent population indoor coverage target by the end of 2017.

The four mobile operators also agreed a binding deal with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to meet a 90 per cent geographic target for voice and text services by 2017. In turn, the government promised to reform planning laws to make the roll-out of new masts and equipment easier for the networks.

A spokesperson for EE challenged Ofcom and the government to put these promises into effect before putting in to place any further coverage obligations.

“Ofcom should work with Government and Parliament to consider the policy goal behind a coverage obligation on the 700MHz spectrum,” the EE spokesperson said.

“Then they should move on from just setting top-down targets by helping to stimulate provision of coverage through Electronic Communications Code and planning reforms, and other ways of reducing the barriers to network rollout.”

O2 and Three both said they would wait to see Ofcom’s proposals in full before making comment, while Vodafone was unavailable for comment.

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