Radio spectrum is a vital resource which underpins the broadcast and telecommunications industries, as well as essential public services such as the emergency services and air traffic control.
Section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to further the interests of citizens and consumers, where appropriate by promoting competition. The Act also requires Ofcom to secure the optimal use of the electro-magnetic spectrum.
Ofcom is today seeking views on proposals to make a significant number of spectrum bands available to the market over the next few years. The consultation also outlines options for extending spectrum trading and liberalisation to mobile phone services.
This consultation is part of Ofcom's wider programme of making greater use of market mechanisms to manage spectrum. It follows publication of Ofcom's Spectrum Framework Review in November 2004, and the UK's first implementation of spectrum trading for certain types of spectrum licences in December. In parallel, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 2 December 2004, Professor Martin Cave is conducting an audit of public sector spectrum with the aim of releasing the maximum amount of spectrum to the market.
Ofcom is today publishing details of twelve spectrum bands that it expects to be available for award by the end of 2008. Some of these bands are small allocations, or are likely to be only of limited use. Other bands, however, such as the 190 MHz of spectrum at 2500-2690 MHz, represent a significant amount of spectrum that could be used for a wide range of different applications such as next generation mobile applications or wireless broadband.
One of Ofcom's priorities is to make this spectrum available to the market as quickly as possible, consistent with an orderly process, so that optimal use is made of the spectrum. Another priority is to help spectrum users plan more effectively by setting out a clear set of proposals for future spectrum awards.
The bands discussed in the document include (all dates are indicative only):
410-425 MHz, 870-921 MHz (part only) (available for award from 2005-2006)
Available as a result of licensee insolvency, these bands could be used for radio services for businesses, additional capacity for the emergency services and programme making.
1452-1492 MHz ('L band', available from 2006-2007)
Possible uses include broadcast multimedia, new mobile applications and digital radio.
1781.7-1785 MHz paired with 1876.7-1880 MHz ('DECT guard bands', available from 2005-2006).
Previously reserved as a buffer between 2G mobile and cordless telephone (DECT) frequencies. Possible uses include innovative, low-power GSM applications.
1790-1798 MHz (available from 2007-2008)
Presently used by the emergency services but additional capacity may become available by 2007-08. Possible uses include wireless broadband applications.
2010-2025 MHz and 2290-2302 MHz (available from 2005-2006)
2010-2025 MHz was reserved for IMT-2000 (3G) systems (but is unused) and the 2290-2302 MHz band was recently returned to Ofcom by the MoD. Could be used for next generation mobile applications or wireless broadband.
2500-2690 MHz (available from 2006-2007)
Presently used by programme makers for outside broadcasts. Possible future uses include next generation mobile applications and wireless broadband
10 GHz, 28 GHz, 32 GHz, 40 GHz (available at varying times, from 2006-2008)
Significant amounts of additional capacity for a range of new services. Includes licences not assigned in the previous auction of 28GHz frequencies.
The document also discusses three other bands, on which further work is required before identifying a date for release:
174 - 230 MHz (part only) ('Band III')
Ofcom has proposed additional awards in its separate review of the radio industry, published on 16 December 2004 .
470-854 MHz ('digital switchover spectrum')
Currently used for analogue television but new options for use will emerge with the transition to digital broadcasting. 112 MHz of spectrum could become available. Proposals dependent upon international negotiations at the Regional Radio Conference in 2006.
Presently used for high speed fixed links, satellite services, and fixed wireless access. Subject to further work on sharing issues, additional capacity may be available for further terrestrial applications.
Trading and liberalisation in mobile services
Four operators currently offer second generation (2G) mobile telephony services in the UK with licences to use bands of spectrum at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz. Five licences to offer third generation (3G) services were awarded in 2000 and 3G services have been commercially available since early 2003. In total, there are about 60 million users of mobile phone services in the UK.
Ofcom has already indicated its intention to extend spectrum trading to the 2G and 3G bands in 2007. The document published today sets out more details of the options for extending spectrum trading and liberalisation to these bands, taking account of the need for a smooth transition to the new approach to spectrum management. In particular, the document:
* Proposes that, in general, there should be no restriction on the ability to use spectrum for mobile phone services other than 3G.
* Considers the case for a transitional period before removing restrictions on the ability to use spectrum that is currently not used for mobile phone services to develop 3G services in the future. It suggests this transitional period might last till 2007.
* Considers how and when liberalisation might be extended to the existing 2G licences.
The document invites comments on these issues and on a number of other relevant issues, including the importance of international legal constraints on the use of the 2G and 3G bands such as the EU harmonisation Directive (87/372/EEC), which restricts use of certain 2G frequencies to the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard.
3G roll-out obligations
In order to give greater certainty to all parties, the document discusses the action that Ofcom might take if any 3G licensee does not comply with network roll-out obligations. Under the terms of their WT Act licences, the current 3G operators are each required to provide network coverage to 80% of the UK population by the end of 2007. Ofcom is not making any proposals to remove these regulatory obligations.
Ofcom suggests that licence revocation is only likely to be proportionate in serious cases of non-compliance, not least given the serious consequences that this could have for existing customers of any licensee. The document also discusses other options for action short of revocation.
Ofcom Chief Executive Stephen Carter said: "Identifying an orderly and measured process with regard to 2G and 3G mobile spectrum will be an important outcome from this consultation."
He added: "Spectrum availability, liberalisation and efficient usage underpin the competitiveness of the communications sector."