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Guess what's missing from Ofcom's big MoD spectrum sale ... YEP, coverage obligation

Public sector bonanza, but not if you live in the country

Ofcom has opened a consultation (PDF) on plans to auction Ministry of Defence spectrum next year – but the watchdog has failed to include coverage obligations in the proposals, despite controversy over mobile "notspots".

Bidders are being asked to comment on proposals for the auction of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands, which is expected to take place in late 2015 or early 2016.

A total of 190 MHz of spectrum will be auctioned in the two bands – equivalent of around three-quarters of the airwaves released by Ofcom through the 4G auction in 2013.

Under the 4G auction last year, only one block of spectrum had coverage obligations of 98 per cent by 2017, which was bought by O2. Ofcom said that placing obligations on one provider would incentivise other mobile operators to follow suit.

Currently one-fifth of the UK's landmass is without a signal – an issue the government is proposing to address by imposing obligations on mobile operators to improve their coverage.

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said this week: "It can't be right that in a fifth of the UK, people cannot use their phones to make a call. The government isn't prepared to let that situation continue."

The auction is part of on-going plans to sell off public sector spectrum and is likely to interest the mobile industry, which relies on spectrum to offer internet services to consumers’ smartphones and tablets, said Ofcom.

The latest spectrum is expected to be suited to "capacity" for high-speed networks, rather than enhancing coverage. But Ofcom said it has not ruled out imposing licensing obligations, and at this stage is focused on hearing from "stakeholders". Philip Marnick, director of Ofcom Spectrum Group, said in a canned quote: “Today marks an important step in ensuring that the UK has sufficient spectrum to support our wireless economy.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: "This high frequency spectrum is better suited for high capacity data rather than wide geographical coverage. Therefore, Ofcom is not proposing coverage obligations for this spectrum.

“We have already imposed a 98 per cent indoor coverage obligation on O2 with the 800 MHz spectrum, sold in the 4G auction," continued the mouthpiece. "Mobile operators have indicated they intend to match O2’s obligation by 2015; this will extend mobile broadband coverage into many areas still underserved by 3G.”

The consultation closes on 23 January 2015. ®

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