4G Auction Faces Legal Delay As Three Upgrades Network


3UK is about to upgrade its network capacity to buy time for legal action over the 4G spectrum auction, say reports

Mobile operator 3UK is reportedly about to reveal on Tuesday an upgrade of its network, in order to give it the option of taking legal action against Ofcom over the forthcoming 4G spectrum auction.

The 4G spectrum auction has already been badly delayed for years now in this country, at a time when many other countries have already deployed 4G networks.

Network Upgrade

The consultation process regarding Ofcom’s 4G spectrum auction rules actually closed last Thursday (22 March), with the auction rules set to be finalised in July. The auction will then take place either late 2012 or early 2013.

Ofcom is determined to press ahead with the 4G spectrum auction as mobile networks reach breaking point due to the ‘data strain’ from smartphones and mobile broadband. Operators like 3UK specialise in mobile data packages and indeed 3UK claims to carry 40 percent of mobile internet traffic in the UK.

This has led to the assumption that 3UK needed the spectrum auction to happen quickly because its network was running out of capacity. But not so, according to the Guardian newspaper, which said that its UK chief executive, David Dyson, will tell a conference in London on Tuesday that he has bought enough time to go to court with new plans to double the capacity of his network with a technology upgrade.

According to the Guardian, upgrade work has already begun along the M3 corridor from Twickenham in London to Camberley in Surrey, and it will then roll out the upgrade nationally.

3UK reportedly upgrading its network to High Speed Packet Access 42.2, which can carry twice the traffic of its HSPA 21.1 network.

It is worth noting however that the operator is expected to make a public statement on the matter following the Tuesday conference.

Spectrum Beef

So what exactly is 3UK’s beef with Ofcom regarding the spectrum auction?

Well at the moment the UK has three large operators, namely Everything Everywhere (i.e. Orange/T-Mobile) Vodafone, and O2.

Ofcom is to issue licences in its spectrum auction for two types of spectrum, 800MHz and 2600MHz. Generally speaking, the 800MHz is considered the more important and valuable spectrum, because it covers greater distances and is able to penetrate buildings better.

Under the current Ofcom rules, the three big operators will compete on a level playing field for these tranches of spectrum. But the rules also state that one lot of spectrum (either in the 800MHz or 2600MHz band) will be reserved for a fourth operator (i.e. 3UK).

3UK therefore is concerned that its smaller size will mean it is outbid on 800MHz, and it would like the watchdog to reserve some of the 800MHz spectrum specifically for a fourth player. Last year 3UK warned that the spectrum auction could put 3UK out of business.

Rival operators such as Vodafone have already gone on record as saying that it was against special treatment for 3UK.

Fractious Auction

Whatever 3UK comes out with tomorrow, Ofcom can be sure that the 4G spectrum auction will ruffle someone’s feathers.

Already Vodafone and O2 are fuming over Ofcom’s decision to allow Everything Everywhere to reuse its existing 1800MHz spectrum to deploy a 4G LTE network.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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