Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Ofcom's Mobile Data Strategy Consultation

Background to Consultation

Ofcom published this Consultation on November 21, 2013, with a closing date for responses to its questions embedded in the document of 30 January 2014. This is my brief commentary on and summary of Ofcom's deliberations and proposals.

Mobile networks are becoming increasingly important to society, covering not simply the provision of mobile broadband services to smartphones and laptops, but also offering the channels for a myriad of different communications paths connecting the Internet of Things. It is also perhaps worth noting that many of the devices connected in this way will in themselves not necessarily be portable but instead fixed (e.g. machine to machine), even though they may sometimes be part of a larger structure that is moving, e.g. telematics for vehicles. The data may also be transported over 4G and later generations of mobile networks, rather than the Internet. For all these reasons, wireless data is perhaps a more apt expression than mobile data.

According to an Intel prediction, by 2020 there will be some 31 billion 'connected devices' ranging from mobile phones (which no doubt by that time will barely resemble phones as currently recognised) to appliances that can be switched on/off remotely, to sensors on humans and other animals. Other predictions include the fact that global mobile data traffic would increase 18 fold between 2011 and 2016 (Cisco) and that, by 2014, traffic from wireless devices will exceed traffic from wired devices (if it has not already happened). Analysys Mason recently estimated that radio frequency spectrum's contribution to UK GDP was £52 billion in 2011, an increase of 25% in real terms since 2006, mostly delivered through mobile communications.

In July this year, the Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published its statement on Connectivity, Content and Consumers (Britain's digital platform for growth) in which, following a two-year review of the media and telecommunications sectors, it identified four areas for action, including achieving what it calls 'world-class connectivity', and declared that it would set out a ten-year plan to deliver greater public value from the use of electromagnetic spectrum. It would also continue its work to deliver its target of releasing 500MHz spectrum from public sector use by 2020.
Working with Ofcom and spectrum users, DCMS stated that it will develop and publish early in 2014 its UK Spectrum Strategy setting out the key changes necessary over the next 10 to 15 years. This will apparently cover all UK spectrum use, set within an international context, and also clearly set out the roles and responsibilities of Government and Ofcom (a clarification of regulatory demarcation much to be welcomed).

Ofcom's Mobile Data Strategy Consultation is thus part of this broader picture. In it Ofcom identifies the challenges faced by the industry and itself in meeting demands for mobile data growth, including the need for continuing technology improvements, deploying networks making more effective use of existing spectrum, ensuring competition between service providers, taking account of other (e.g. non-mobile) demands on spectrum and improving coverage.

Objective of Ofcom

The core objective of Ofcom's strategy as set out in the Consultation is to identify and prioritise actions which facilitate the continued long-term growth in consumer benefits from increasing use of mobile data services.

Ofcom outlines its proposed work as being:
  • identifying the potential for mobile data use of a number of new and emerging bands
  • setting preliminary prioritisation of such bands , and
  • eventual final prioritisation of these bands,
which should also inform the UK's approach in the run-up to WRC-15, the ITU's World Radio Conference on band allocation.
In regard to this prioritisation, Ofcom identifies the following key drivers of change that could influence future spectrum demands, namely: (a) the use of small cells and Wi-Fi for carrying mobile data traffic, and (b) the potential demands of emerging machine-to-machine communications.

Future demands

As mentioned above, the expression mobile data services used by Ofcom here is obviously not limited merely to communication services supporting the transfer of data to mobile devices, which would be rather limiting and indeed exclude a lot of potential mobile network traffic to and from fixed points. Rather, it appears intended to cover wireless data communications of all kinds, including data offload to WiFi networks.

Ofcom looks to facilitate competing demands for spectrum to support mobile data services in a number of ways:
(i) from the broadest perspective, ensuring that there continues to be robust competition between the established mobile network operators, whilst at the same time looking for opportunities to promote market entry by niche players such as Wi-Fi providers, users of white spaces and other wireless-based innovative services;
(ii) improving coverage beyond network licensees' regulatory obligations;
(iii) understanding the possibilities likely to come from future technology evolution;
(iv) ongoing management of wireless and wired backhaul in order to support demands for high availability for 4G services and to promote competition and
(v) supporting major initiatives in the use of spectrum and international negotiations for this purpose, e.g. awards of new spectrum in 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands. Ofcom admits that it needs to develop a longer term strategy in relation to potential future spectrum options.

Technology drivers of change

Ofcom looks at trends in technology and network topology affecting long-term demand for spectrum for mobile data services. It sees these as including: improvements in spectral efficiency; the use of wider channel bandwidths; advanced antenna techniques such as MIMO; developments of new technologies to address the asymmetry between uplink and downlink capacity demands, such as supplementary downlink (SDL); greater co-ordination between base stations, using fast links via fibre or fixed wireless; spectrum sharing; the potential for delivering broadcast TV over mobile networks; the use of smaller cells; Wi-Fi offload and load-balancing techniques.

Prioritisation of the use of different spectrum bands

Assessing the potential demand for a band on the basis of (a) the capacity the band can provide and (b) coverage and whether the band's propagation characteristics will assist coverage or boost performance, in summary the high priority bands Ofcom finds to be the following:

This band is currently licensed to Qualcomm in the UK as a single block of 40MHz. A recent ECC decision supports a change of use of this band to SDL, which provides additional downlink capacity to enhance the capacity of paired spectrum in another (mobile) band.

This is the MSS frequency band currently licensed at an EU level to Inmarsat and Solaris. The EU RSPG apparently contends that the licensees' mobile satellite services have not been a commercial success and has recommended the European Commission should consider reallocation of the band for terrestrial mobile services if future actions taken by EU Member States result in the withdrawal of such licences

This band is already partly used for mobile data services commercially but also for satellite earth stations. The band has already been harmonised at a European level for mobile use.

5350-5470MHz and 5725-5925MHz
This band exclusively supports the latest version of the Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, which is capable of delivering speeds similar to current superfast broadband services throughout the home or office. In future years the band is apparently likely to become increasingly important for Wi-Fi as the existing allocation at 2.4GHz becomes more congested.

Timing of availability of bands
Whilst recognising and warning of the surrounding uncertainties, Ofcom has set out its assessment of the likely availability of the high-priority and other considered bands in the Table below:

Table 7 - Potential timing if bands are made available for mobile data
Source: Ofcom Mobile Data Strategy Consultation – 21 November 2013

Mobile data requirements indoors are normally best met by WiFi, and as Ofcom states, WiFi at 5 GHz should bring much higher speeds to a larger proportion of consumers during the latter half of this decade. Mobile network capacity at sub-1 GHz to support greater mobility in the more under-served areas is also forecasted to rise steadily. However the underlying message is that in the short term, for these areas at least, the digital divide does look likely to widen.

Longer term, Ofcom sees the picture as more rosy, with relative to 2012 a forecasted 37 times increase in total mobile data capacity by 2030. Whether even that will prove adequate is one for the crystal ball gazers.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Connectivity, Content and Consumers

The Government (DCMS) published its very long-awaited White Paper this week. It covers both communications and content.

This came out of the Coalition deciding early on its term that it suspected the communications sector was not functioning as well as it might and that the surrounding legislation might be in need of an overhaul.

Ever since and in the build-up to publication, it is alleged that, at least as regards electronic communications, the Government has been struggling to find something particularly new or significant to address.

This seems to be borne out by the White Paper, which is a useful 'pulling together' of the Government's thoughts and pre-existing initiatives, sprinkled with a few future promises, but offers very little to set the pulse racing.  


The 'highlights' nevertheless can be summarised as follows:


·         Broadband

Some £1.2B of public funds is being invested to bring broadband to rural communities (the Government does not mention the delays that have occurred in its disbursement, partly due to obtaining EU State Aid approvals). It is to make a further £250M investment, to be locally matched, to extend superfast broadband to 95% of UK premises by 2017, and is exploring with industry how to develop more innovative fixed, wireless and mobile broadband solutions required to move to 99% superfast coverage by 2018 (right now that seems rather ambitious, though there is some elasticity in the term 'superfast')


·         Mobile

Currently mobile coverage stands at over 99% of UK premises, but there are still some 80,000 premises in complete 'not-spots', the majority in rural areas. The Government committed (in 2011) a total of £150M to improve mobile coverage and quality; in May Arqiva was appointed to provide this infrastructure. With 4G now being successfully rolled out and competition between the various 4G licensees beginning to mount, the Government states it is working with the University of Surrey, the wider research community and industry to establish 'the world's first test-bed' for 5G technologies and services, in order for the UK to become a world-leader in such technologies.


·         Spectrum

The Government has answered the cries from the industry and promised, working with Ofcom and spectrum users (e.g. mobile operators), to develop a 10-year UK Spectrum Strategy 'to deliver greater public value from the use of electromagnetic spectrum'. And in another response to public pleas for clarity on demarcation, the Strategy document will apparently 'clearly set out the roles and responsibilities of Government…and those for Ofcom and spectrum users'. The strategy will also include the timeframe for key decisions on future spectrum releases including in the 700MHz band and planned public sector spectrum sales and sharing opportunities. Apart from a passing reference to the EU objective of finding 1200MHz for mobile broadband, there seems to be missing the recognition that all this needs to feed into and from the EU's own rolling Radio Spectrum Policy Programme.

As regards spectrum management, the Government plans to make 'targeted amendments' to legislation to:

§  facilitate spectrum sharing though 'dynamic spectrum access' technologies

§  give spectrum licensees incentives to surrender their rights to spectrum for other uses where it is not being fully used or needed

§  notably, make it easier (apparently from the timeliness point of view) for the Secretary of State to direct Ofcom on spectrum matters so as to implement broader Government policy: this should raise a few eyebrows

§  enable Ofcom to fine licensees for licence breaches rather than simply threaten them with the more theoretical sanction of revocation.


·         Infrastructure deployment

Following on from new legislation in 2012, removing or suspending restrictions on planning, wayleaves, street works, overhead lines etc, even in areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Government looks to remove other barriers and 'red tape', including amending the Electronic Communications Code (following a recent Law Commission report), better facilitating laying cables in streets and streamlining the planning process for installation of mobile infrastructure, particularly 4G.


·         UK digital communications infrastructure

In a final flourish, the Government states it will work in partnership with communications industry experts (including 'leading thinkers') to develop by the end of 2014 a strategy for the UK's digital communications infrastructure from 2015-2025, with particular emphasis on technologies that 'can help boost connectivity in all parts of the UK'.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

UK 4G Auction

The UK’s long-heralded auction of LTE/4G spectrum (800MHz and 2.6GHz) is nearing conclusion after four weeks and more than 50 rounds of bidding. The winners have already been determined and have bid a base total of £2.34 billion (US$3.61 billion) .

This auction is the most significant release ever of spectrum to the market, a total of 250MHz, and, in Ofcom’s words, “likely to be the last significant opportunity to obtain prime mobile spectrum for many years”.

The essential legal driver behind Ofcom’s proposal was direct Government legal intervention in 2010: a never-before-used instrument enabled by UK wireless telegraphy legislation, in the form of Directions issued to Ofcom by the Secretary of State. The main requirements in these Directions as regards 4G spectrum were that:
- Ofcom should make regulations for an auction of licences to utilise frequencies in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ after carrying out a competition assessment.

- This competition assessment should be in respect of the future competitiveness of mobile electronic communication services markets after the conclusion of the auction, taking into account possible effects of the auction. It should also include consideration of ‘the potential for new entry into those markets’.

- In light of the competition assessment, Ofcom should, where they think fit, put in place ‘appropriate and proportionate’ measures which would promote competition in those markets after the conclusion of the auction, including in the rules governing the Auction itself.

Ofcom went through a protracted and at times contentious three-stage public consultation process before starting the Auction process in late January 2013. The essential features of the final proposals were:

• Reservation of a portfolio of spectrum bands for a fourth national wholesaler, either H3G or a new entrant.

• Safeguard caps on the amount of spectrum that will be allowed to be held by any wholesale operator following the Auction: an overall cap of 2 x 105MHz and a sub-1GH spectrum cap of 2 x 27.5MHz.

• A coverage obligation to apply to a 2 x 10MHz lot within the 800MHz band, which will be both frequency and technology neutral. However the licensee will be able to meet the obligation with any frequencies that it is permitted to use.

• Spectrum packaging in the form of two types of lot for the 800MHz band (one for the 2 x 10MHz with the coverage obligation and the other for the remainder in lots of 2 x 5MHz); for the 2.6GHz band, 2 x 5MHz lots for paired and 5MHz lots for unpaired spectrum.

• Reserve prices for the two different lot categories: £1.15 billion for 60MHz of 800MHz spectrum, £330 million for 190MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum, a total reserve price of £1.48 billion.

• Spectrum trading to be permitted for individual standard-power licences; low-power licences at 2.6GHz to be tradable only where the number of licensees in the band is not increased. (Ofcom will consider after the Auction whether to allow leasing of mobile spectrum licences generally).

• Licences to be of indefinite duration, with an initial period of 20 years and thereafter revocable for spectrum management reasons on 5 years’ notice.

• The level of annual licence fees for already licensed 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum to be adjusted after the Auction to reflect full market value having regard to the sums bid in the auction for 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum.

The format chosen for the Auction was a ‘Combinatorial Clock Auction’ consisting of three rounds: an opt-in round (where those bidders that are eligible to opt in decide whether to make bids at the reserve price for a set of minimum portfolio packages); a series of primary bid rounds during which Ofcom set prices in light of excess demand and bidders respond to the changes in prices with revised bids until there is no longer excess demand for any of the lot categories; and a supplementary bids round during which bidders could update the amounts of their bids on packages they bid on in the primary rounds and bid on different packages.

The winning combination for lots is the one for which the sum of bid amounts plus the reserve price in respect of any unsold spectrum is highest. The price that each winner pays is, however, set according to the level of the second-highest bid.

In the end, out of seven original applicants , five, the four existing mobile operators and one re-entrant to the mobile sector – BT, were successful, with bid base prices as below:

Everything Everywhere Ltd 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz and

2 x 35 MHz of 2.6 GHz: £588,876,000

Hutchison 3G UK Ltd 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz: £225,000,000

Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd (a subsidiary of BT Group plc) 2 x 15 MHz of 2.6 GHz and

1 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz (unpaired): £186,476,000

Telefónica UK Ltd 2 x 10 MHz of 800 MHz

(coverage obligation lot): £550,000,000

Vodafone Ltd 2 x 10 MHz of 800 MHz,

2 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz and

1 x 25 MHz of 2.6 GHz (unpaired): £790,761,000

Total £2,341,113,000

BT’s entry is interesting but does not appear to be a direct threat to the incumbents – it has stated that it does not intend to build a national network. The spectrum it has won could be used for a metro hot zone type of data network, especially in combination with its Wi-Fi value proposition .

The Government, relying on external expert advice and civil servants, had expected or at least hoped that a total £3.5 billion would be raised, so the result has fallen nearly £1.2 billion short of that figure. However, latterly many industry pundits were predicting that such a figure was over-optimistic and so events have proved. One expert consultant has already said that on the basis of the German 4G auction and using a £/MHz/Pop like-for-like comparison, the UK auction came in at £0.15/MHz/Pop or c.£600M below the German benchmark (£0.19/MHz/Pop).

The prices bid will have been influenced by a number of factors, such as the current fragile state of the UK economy, the investment required to build LTE networks, the uncertain consumer response and take-up, and the fact that, in addition to Everything Everywhere, the other incumbent operators are about to be permitted to re-farm existing licensed frequency bands (900MHz, 1800Mhz and 2.1GHz) in order to use LTE 4G technology.

Once the auction fees have been paid and the new licences issued, we can anticipate that there will be rapid deployment of LTE technology, by the likes of Vodafone and Telefonica in particular, especially to try to close the marketing gap opened up following Everything Everywhere being authorised by Ofcom in August 2012 to convert its 1800MHz spectrum to LTE use.

February 21, 2013

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Phone hacking

The current fuss regarding alleged activities of journalists or researchers allegedly hacking into voicemail of public figures and the apparent musings by the police and their legal advisers regarding application of the law on this subject prompt me to take a fresh look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

RIPA applies to interception of communications 'in the course of transmission' so you might be forgiven for querying how unauthorised intrusions into stored voice mail could be in the course of transmission of a communication. However RIPA has an extended and quite complex definition of what constitutes interception (including interference and monitoring) and also specifically contemplates accessing telecommunication systems which store messages.

So it does indeed seem possible that, with the appropriate evidence, 'hacking' of this kind could be an offence under RIPA. Nonetheless, if civil or criminal trials do result, the judgements should provide some useful clarification.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Spectrum saga

With the entry into force, on December 30, 2010, of the Government's Directions to Ofcom and today's announcement by Ofcom of its variation of GSM (900 and 1800 MHz) licences to implement both the Directions and (at last) the GSM Amendment Directive, at least a part of the long-running saga of implementation of the UK's 'spectrum modernisation' programme has been completed.
This originated with Ofcom's much earlier attempts, and Lord Carter's subsequent Digital Britain initiative, to liberalise the GSM frequencies for 3G services and release (by public auction) new spectrum at both 2.6 GHz and 800 MHz, to support the expansion of mobile broadband services nationally.
Most recently these elements have been distilled into Government 'Directions', issued to Ofcom under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, requiring Ofcom to carry out this auction as soon as reasonably practicable (which may in fact not be until early 2012). These Directions have at long last come into force – on December 30, 2010.
The GSM Amendment Directive ('GSMA') meanwhile has had its own timetable, requiring Member States to "make….available" the 900 MHz band for UMTS (3G) as well as GSM systems and to bring into force the necessary laws and regulations for this purpose by May 9, 2010. (The 1800 MHz band was dealt with similarly in a separate 1800 MHz Decision). So on March 2, 2010, O2 applied to Ofcom for a variation to its licences to allow it to deploy UMTS in the 900 and 1800 bands, arguing that it was entitled to have the necessary variation as from May 9.
Ofcom refused O2's request, saying BIS had asked it not to take action before the next Government had been elected and able to consider the previously proposed Directions regarding the 900/1800 MHz and other spectrum (a response later described in O2's appeal by Mr. Justice Vos as "plainly an inadequate one"). O2 appealed this decision to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), supported by Vodafone, with Ofcom supported by Everything Everywhere and Hutchison 3G. O2 initially were seeking a ruling that the GSMA created a directly effective right for O2. However, during the hearing its Counsel conceded that it did not have such a right and so the Court was left to decide essentially whether the UK and thus Ofcom were obliged actually to remove any licence restrictions preventing the deployment of UMTS in the 900/1800MHz bands by the May 9 deadline.
In the appeal O2 argued with conviction that "make available" meant "capable of being made use of", but two of the CAT judges disagreed. Focussing particularly on the procedural requirements of Article 14 of the Authorisation Directive, they held that the only steps to be taken by Ofcom by May 9, 2010 were to ensure that any technical harmonisation measures were in place, so that subsequently the 900MHz band could be used for UMTS technology.
The third judge, Professor Pickering viewed things quite differently. Noting that Ofcom's original view (2009) was that it must liberalise the 900 MHz band in the hands of the licensees by the May 9 deadline, and its subsequent change of mind, he diametrically disagreed with the majority opinion that implementation was a two-stage process (i.e. first freeing the band and then subsequently authorising its use after any necessary public consultation). He found this 'not convincing' and decided that the appropriate interpretation was that all steps should be taken by May 9, 2010 both to remove the restrictions and allow existing holders of spectrum rights to use them for UMTS.
So the majority view, that making the bands available for UMTS systems required the two stages of technical harmonisation (although the UK apparently had nothing to do in that respect) and then the authorisation process, remained the decision of the Court, though now subject to appeal to the Court of Appeal, due for hearing (unless withdrawn) in July 2011.
The GSMA required the UK, as an EU Member State and when implementing the Directive, to examine whether the existing assignments of the 900 and 1800 MHz bands to the competing mobile operators were likely to distort competition in the mobile markets concerned (see below). No mention was made of this requirement in the Directions, though apparently when issuing them the Minister stated that he had considered the competitive situation as required by the GSMA and "the greater need for capacity on existing networks…..cancels out any potential advantage of sub-1 GHz spectrum".
It seems that subsequently (October 25, 2010), Ofcom advised the Government in a published statement that in fact it no longer considered there to be a risk that there would be a competitive distortion from liberalising 900 and 1800 MHz spectrum for 3G/UMTS use. Ofcom seem never to have formally consulted the industry before issuing these views. The very next day (October 26) the Minister issued a statement adopting this advice. So, clearly, the Government maintains that it has satisfied the Directive on this score, but doubts nonetheless remain regarding the lack of consultation: critically these were picked up by Everything Everywhere in their recent comments to Ofcom on the then proposed variation to 900 and 1800 MHz licences to comply with the GSMA.
The same statement by the Minister emphasised the further competition assessment required before the auction rules are formulated pursuant to the Directions, so any lingering doubts regarding a competitive imbalance may finally be resolved at that stage. Whether the outcome in preparing for and designing the auction will be sufficient to neutralise further objections remains to be seen, but given the strategic importance of the issues, the discretion exercisable by Ofcom in its assessments (for which the Directions do not provide a security blanket), and the difficulty of resolving all the different interests involved, it cannot be presumed that legal challenges are necessarily behind us. In some ways we seem no further forward than when Ofcom embarked on this journey in 2007/2008. Whatever happened to critical path analysis?

Happy New Year!
January 6, 2011

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A Suit of Chocolate Armour?

Apologies for the hiatus since my last blog, but until recently a state of purdah has held back any important initiatives in the telecoms sector and we have had to wait for the Coalition Government to get into the saddle and take up the reins again in order for it to produce something worthy of comment.
The last significant thing the previous Government tried to do, by way of implementation of the Digital Britain report, was to create an entirely new beast, "Directions to Ofcom" to implement the so-called Wireless Radio Spectrum Modernisation Programme. The shorthand for this is that the Government wanted to use never-before wielded statutory powers to clear the legal/technical log-jam around harmonisation of the 900 and 1800 MHz wireless spectrum bands for UMTS (i.e. 3G) and GSM systems and to have Ofcom run a combined auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum, which had proved particularly controversial. As part of this, the Government sought to equalise spectrum holdings, in particular using spectrum caps.
When Ofcom originally planned to implement GSM system refarming, as well as auctioning new 2.6 GHz spectrum, it was confronted with legal challenges from e.g. O2. So the blunt instrument of statutory Directions to Ofcom was deployed by the Government, ostensibly to avoid the need for further consultations and no doubt protect Ofcom from renewed legal challenges: a legal 'suit of armour' if you will.
However, the statutory instrument containing the Directions failed to come into force before the May election and it has fallen to the new Minister for Communications, Ed Vaizey, to consider whether to revive it, produce a new version of the Directions or abandon this stratagem altogether.
Following talks with the wireless industry, the Government has in fact now issued a new form of draft Directions (for approval by Parliament) which is much simplified and shortened compared with its immediate predecessor. Essentially they set out (belatedly) to implement the GSM amending Directive, provide for variations to the existing 900 MHz, 1.8 GHz and 2.1 GHz licences and reintroduce the central concept of a combined auction of the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands.
Crucially, as regards the auction, the new Directions throw this rather hot potato back into the lap of Ofcom, in that they require Ofcom first of all to carry out a forward-looking assessment regarding the likely future competitiveness of mobile markets after the conclusion of the Auction, taking into account the possible effects of the Auction. They then require that Ofcom should put in place 'appropriate and proportionate measures' to promote competition in those markets after the conclusion of the Auction, which measures could be included in the rules governing the Auction.
Consequently it is clear that if the main purpose of the original Directions was indeed to protect Ofcom from legal action regarding the Auction conditions, nothing in the new Directions will provide any such protection this time around.
There is no real hard deadline for the Auction provided in the Directions, even though the Government have indicated elsewhere that this should take place before the end of 2011: Ofcom is simply required to make the Auction regulations as soon as reasonably practicable after concluding its competition assessment, but this of course does not dictate the timing of the Auction itself.
Other parts of the Directions, notably the variations to existing 3G licences to impose service coverage requirements, extend their duration and impose annual charges after 2021, are expressly subject to the licensees consenting, which of course is no different to the position that would have applied even without the Direction.
So all in all, I am really left questioning the utility of the Directions and whether very much, if any, of significance remains of their predecessor's main legal purpose, namely of providing to Ofcom a suit of armour against legal challenges. A suit of chocolate armour might be more apt, as certainly this whole area remains something of a confection.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Slow-release spectrum

Seeing in Policy Tracker that Optus in Australia has just bumped up its holdings of 3G spectrum by acquiring some at 2.1 GHz, put me in mind of the quagmire that the field of play has become for UK spectrum.
Unfortunately I think the developing consensus is that, for procedural and technical reasons, as well as the looming UK general election, the long-promised 2.6 GHz auction, even if not combined with 800 Mhz, will not take place before 2011. That might raise an argument for the decoupled 800/900 MHz to be auctioned earlier, but this would need to be assessed against the Independent Spectrum Broker's reasoning for his original recommendations to Government.
If there's enough time left before May (tight), there may well have to be a new consultation and a new draft BIS direction (if the Government stick to that way of doing things) about these proposals once BIS and Ofcom have a clear view on 'which spectrum and when', leaving aside of course the possibility for legal challenges, which still remain a threat.
Meanwhile would-be bidders for 2.6 who want the auction to take place as quickly as possible are publicly pressing for the release of at least the central portion of 50 MHZ spectrum in the 2.6 band.
All very frustrating for those waiting for a seat at the spectrum high table!
You can always blame the lawyers..........