Ofcom Warns Of UK’s Slipping 4G Timetable


4G services may not become available in Britain for another four years, according to Ofcom

Next-generation 4G mobile networks may not be “widely available” in the UK for another four years, according to telecoms regulator Ofcom, as the auction of the needed radio spectrum faces further delays.

In its draft annual plan for 2012/13 (PDF) Ofcom said it expects “roll-out of 4G mobile services during 2013/14 and wide availability by 2015”.

Auction delays

The hold-up is in part due to delays in the auctions of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz radio spectrum bands, which have been delayed several times and now may not occur until the 2012/13 financial year.

However, there have also been unexpected problems with interference which means that Ofcom believes the spectrum won’t be technically usable until 2013 at the earliest, according to a report by Computer Business Review.

The regulator said that in order to make the UK’s 4G services compatible with those in Europe it was obliged to set aside more of the 800MHz band than was originally planned, creating interference with the part of that band used by digital terrestrial television (DTT). It will take until late 2013 to clear that band, Ofcom said.

Ofcom said that the UK’s position is unusual in that around half of the population rely on DTT, a larger proportion than in Germany, France or the US, where cable or satellite television has taken over.

Legal squabbles

Pressure from the UK’s competing telecommunications giants, including the threat of legal action by O2, has also contributed to the delays, the regulator said.

The operators are fighting over how much spectrum should be reserved for whom. For instance, O2’s lawsuit claimed that Ofcom’s proposal to reserve a certain proportion of 800MHz spectrum for O2 and Vodafone’s competitors was illegal under EU law.

3 UK has also complained that Ofcom’s spectrum plans are unfair.

Ofcom held a consultation on its planned spectrum auctions in March and based on the response to this decided to hold a further consultation. It is currently planning to come up with a new auction plan, which will be announced in the summer of 2012 with the auction itself to follow in the second half of the year.

Deployment elsewhere

Meanwhile, services using the 4G technology known as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) have already been launched in the US, Germany, Japan and emerging markets such as Uzbekistan, while France’s auctions 4G spectrum auctions are currently underway.

In May of this year ABI Research predicted that by the end of 2011 there would be 16 million LTE subscribers worldwide. Devices are already available from Samsung and other manufacturers.

BT and Everything Everywhere are currently trialling 4G/LTE in Cornwall as a way of deploying broadband to rural not-spots.

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