Ofcom has announced updated proposals to release crucial airwaves to meet growing demand for mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G.
Ofcom manages the UK’s airwaves – or spectrum – a finite resource that is essential for wireless services including mobile phones.
To help improve mobile services and enable more people and businesses to access 5G networks, they are planning to release more mobile airwaves through an auction in spring 2020.
Improving mobile coverage
In December 2018 Ofcom proposed including coverage obligations in their auction rules. These would have required mobile companies to increase coverage in rural areas, in exchange for winning discounted spectrum through the auction.
Following this, the four mobile network operators – BT/EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – have discussed with Government and Ofcom an alternative ‘Shared Rural Network’ plan to deliver good quality 4G coverage to at least 92% of the UK over six years.
On 25 October, the Government announced that the companies had each committed to reaching this target. The Government has also confirmed it will provide £500 million of funding for the plan. Ofcom welcomes this agreement, which we believe will provide significant benefits to mobile users across the UK.
To make sure mobile companies stick to the commitments, Ofcom will write binding conditions into their spectrum licences. Ofcom will also monitor, and report, on their progress in meeting the new commitments.
In light of the commitments, Ofcom are no longer proposing to include coverage obligations in their auction. This is because through the companies working together, the agreement will achieve higher coverage than the requirements we could have set through an auction. So they have published updated proposals for how the mobile auction will work.
Airwaves being released
The auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands.
- The 700 MHz band. Ofcom are releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside. Releasing these airwaves will also boost the capacity of today’s mobile networks – offering customers a more reliable service.
- The 3.6-3.8 GHz band. Ofcom are releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. These important airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and are capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas. All four of the biggest mobile companies have launched 5G this year, and releasing these airwaves will help increase the capacity and quality of mobile data services.