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Author Topic: Ofcom Proposes Options to Improve UK Mobile Network Coverage  (Read 523 times)


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Ofcom Proposes Options to Improve UK Mobile Network Coverage
« on: September 14, 2018, 01:37:08 PM »

Ofcom has today published the technical advice that they recently submitted to Government, which proposes a number of ways in which near universal UK Mobile (3G, 4G, 5G) coverage might be achieved (public subsidy, rural wholesale access etc.), beyond what will be established via their forthcoming auction of the 700MHz band.

The 700MHz band (formerly used for Digital Terrestrial TV services) is aimed more at future ultrafast 5G mobile data (broadband) services and is due to be auctioned off by Ofcom in 2019. The band will also come attached to a much stricter coverage obligation than we’ve seen before, which will require both better indoor reception and at least two operators must commit to reach 92% of the UK land area with good reception.

However Ofcom notes that value of the aforementioned spectrum “constrains our ability to go further with these obligations” (e.g. attaching an overly strict obligation might discourage operators’ from bidding). On top of that they “do not believe that these obligations can fix the coverage problem in its entirety.”

Admittedly EE already aims to cover 95% of the UK’s landmass with their 4G network by the end of December 2020 (currently 91%), but they’re only one operator (we don’t all want to be EE customers) and that would still leave plenty of so-called “notspots” with very poor or no signal.

Both the Government and Ofcom have thus been discussing how something close to universal mobile coverage might be achieved in the future. In keeping with that the regulator has proposed a number of solutions to the Government and they’ve today published those options for public consumption.

Ofcom’s Technical Advice for Better Mobile Coverage

1) Use public subsidy to pay for new coverage roll out:
This is most likely to be an effective tool for covering total not spots (areas where no operators are currently present). The cost of covering total not spots will vary, depending on their location. While it is not possible to be certain of the costs, we estimate that addressing all total not spots would cost £3-6bn, once the 700MHz coverage obligations are factored in.

Direct subsidy is less likely to be an appropriate means of tackling partial not spots as funding operators to overbuild their competitors’ networks could create distortions to competition.

2) Rural wholesale access (otherwise known as roaming):
This would involve operators allowing customers to roam onto one another’s networks in rural areas. It could improve coverage by 2-3 percentage points for the holders of the 700 MHz coverage obligations and by 5-10 percentage for the other operators. Taken together with our proposed coverage obligations it could result in customers of all four operators getting coverage in around 90% of the UK.

It introduces investment risks and consumer experience issues that could be mitigated to a degree. The surest way to introduce a rural wholesale access arrangement would be with the co-operation of operators. In the past, such arrangements have been strongly resisted by most mobile operators on the basis that the case to impose them is unsustainable, and we expect they will continue to take that position.

3) Infrastructure sharing:
Mobile operators have extensive infrastructure sharing arrangements that allow them to share the costs of deploying coverage. Ofcom is considering ways in which we can facilitate further sharing.

4) Planning reform and other cost reduction measures:
There are a range of measures the UK and devolved Governments could take to reduce the costs of building and operating mobile masts, and thereby facilitate coverage rollout. We believe the most useful potential measures include aligning the planning regime to give mobile operators the same compulsory purchase rights as other utilities, and extending the business rates relief recently granted for fibre deployment to mobile infrastructure.
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