Ofcom's Looking at Letting All the Networks Broadcast 4G on Existing 2 and 3G Spectrum

By Sam Gibbs on at

Following EE's 1800MHz 2G to 4G licence swap, Ofcom's been reviewing current mobile network licensing. It seems the UK mobile regulator has come to the conclusion there's no reason other network providers can't do the same. Could we suddenly see a load more 4G networks before the official 4G auction finishes?

It seems, following requests from Three and Vodafone, Ofcom's going to "liberalise all mobile licences in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands to permit the deployment of 4G services" essentially allowing reuse of existing mobile network spectrum for 4G LTE. That's exactly what EE did to enable its 4G service last year.

"We propose in this consultation: to liberalise all mobile licences in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands to permit the deployment of 4G services (where such licenses have not already been liberalised). This will align the permitted technologies across all mobile spectrum licences, including the existing licences at 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz and the licences to be awarded by auction in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands. This will meet a long standing objective to liberalise all mobile licences so that there are no regulatory barriers to the deployment of the latest available mobile technology"

Of course, what this really means is Ofcom's starting a consultation on the process of 4G licence swaps. In reality, it's looking at removing the restrictions on mobile licences to produce just one licence to broadcast cellular services across particular bandwidth chunks, rather than specifying whether one is to be used for 2G, 3G, or 4G. That certainly makes sense to me, simplifying the whole thing.

How long this consultation process will take, we don't know. It's likely to take as long as the 4G auction, though, and it would probably be in EE's best interest to try and delay it as long as possible. After all, it wouldn't want to lose its 4G monopoly any sooner than it has to.

The overall impact for us, the punters, will probably be better 4G coverage, and a convergence of the mobile networks' technologies. We could see a time, very soon in fact, where 2G networks are essentially switched off, making way for better 3G and 4G coverage and capacity. More capacity means faster data, and that can only be a good thing, right? It's not like people make calls anymore anyway. [Ofcom]

Image credit: Mobile mast from Shutterstock