ComReg opens door to Irish 4G

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In August 2011, Irish regulator ComReg finally announced its draft decision on a large award of multi-band spectrum, after six consultations which began as far back as July 2008. In total, ComReg intends to auction off 28 blocks (2×5MHz for each block) of spectrum in the 800MHz, 900MHz, and 1800MHz bands. The new licenses for the three bands will be valid for the period of 2013–2030 on a technology and service-neutral basis.
 
ComReg is also proposing a spectrum cap to ensure that no single company can win more than ten blocks of spectrum – a maximum of 100MHz. A final decision is expected…in 4Q 2011, at which time the date for the auction will finally be determined.
 
In Ireland, the spectrum to be made available for LTE has been held up due to a delay in refarming the 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum bands, and delays in auctioning suitable spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.5GHz bands. In contrast, across much of the EU15 (such as Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden) the 900MHz and 1800MHz spectrum bands have been liberalized and can be used for 3G and LTE. Ireland risked being comparatively late in rolling out LTE networks as a result of a lack of suitable spectrum and regulatory uncertainty.
 
A large amount of spectrum in the 800MHz, 900MHz, and 1800MHz bands could now pave the way for LTE rollout in Ireland. A total of 280MHz will be available, which is more than double the current 900MHz and 1800MHz holdings for the three operators. These three bands are regarded as highly suitable for mobile broadband services, particularly the lower frequencies (800MHz and 900MHz), by virtue of their propagation characteristics; by enabling wide-area coverage, reasonable bandwidth capacity and effective in-building penetration, they offer the ability to provide high-quality national mobile network coverage in the most cost-effective way, particularly given Ireland’s challenging rural population spread.
 
Three significant outcomes result from the draft decision.
 
Firstly, the proposed auctions are in line with the European Commission’s GSM Amendment Directive adopted in September 2009. In Ireland, spectrum in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands allocated to three operators is currently used for the provision of GSM mobile services, and the refarming of the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands should be implemented soon.
 
Second, the digital dividend auction in Ireland will likely meet the EC mandate to free up spectrum by 2013. In the draft decision, ComReg moved the 800MHz spectrum auction forward to 2013 from 2015.
 
Third, the decision provides regulatory certainty to operators on investment in LTE network deployment. The proposed large spectrum auction will enable telecoms operators to make the necessary investment in next-generation mobile services.
 
Spectrum caps promote competition
The spectrum caps proposed by ComReg are intended to promote competition in the mobile market and encourage new market entrants. As well as an overall spectrum cap of 2×50MHz for the three bands, ComReg proposed a separate cap of 2×20MHz for the 800MHz and 900MHz bands and a cap of 2×10MHz for the 900MHz band for the first period of the license (2011–2015).
 
Some European regulators have sought to protect a competitive landscape and encourage new service providers to enter the market by putting caps on the amount of spectrum that could be acquired by any one incumbent. Across Europe, various types of spectrum caps (or allowed amounts) have been set or proposed by the National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs): the Swedish regulator PTS applied a band-specific cap of 140MHz in its 2.6GHz auction and a separate spectrum cap of 20MHz in the digital dividend spectrum auction, and the German regulator BNetzA imposed a cap of 2×10MHz in spectrum bids in the 800MHz band.
 
In its consultation of March 2011, for its planned auction of spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, Ofcom proposed a cap on the total amount of spectrum that any one operator can acquire of a maximum of 2×105MHz and, more importantly, a maximum of 2×27.5MHz in the most valuable sub-1GHz band. We expect spectrum caps will be widely used by NRAs in the EU to promote competition in the mobile market. Other countries will learn lessons from the regulators that have already imposed or proposed spectrum caps (ComReg, BNetzA, the PTS, and Ofcom), when they plan to auction spectrum for 4G mobile services.
 
Imposing rollout obligations in license conditions has been a common approach by European NRAs so far. Their key objective is to ensure ubiquitous broadband coverage. In its draft decision, ComReg proposed to set the same coverage requirement for new licensees in the three bands, but with asymmetric rollout targets to assist new entrants. ComReg proposed a homogeneous coverage level of 35% of the population within three years of license assignment, and of 70% of the population within five years. New entrants are to be given extra time to achieve this, along with an interim milestone.
 
The coverage obligations will help in achieving the EC’s Digital Agenda targets. These are: the basic goal of ‘broadband for all’ by 2013, and 100% of European households to have fast broadband coverage at 30Mbps, at least 50% of which at 100Mbps, by 2020. The large amount of spectrum proposed for auction by ComReg will ensure sufficient spectrum availability to meet targets in the Digital Agenda and spectrum in the 800MHz and 900MHz bands will promote mobile broadband in rural areas.

Original article: Ireland’s ComReg proposes spectrum award for 4G mobile services 

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