Ofcom approves spectrum refarming for LTE services

The UK telecoms regulator Ofcom said it will allow spectrum currently reserved for 2G services to be used for LTE services, in a move that is likely to be welcomed by operators seeking additional resources for their future network strategies.

However, it is unlikely that operators will be able to exploit their 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz bands any time soon because of the long refarming process that will be required to clear the frequency bands of their existing uses.

"The spectrum recently auctioned by Ofcom will most likely be used for Vodafone, O2 and 3's initial deployment of [LTE] services," said Matthew Howett, principal regulation analyst at Ovum. "EE [the UK's first LTE services provider] was only able to refarm its 1800 MHz spectrum and launch 4G [LTE] services in this band given its large and contiguous spectrum holding."

Ofcom said the decision, which had been expected, "delivers a long-standing objective to liberalise all mobile licences to remove the regulatory barriers to deployment of the latest available mobile technology."

The regulator commented that even though operators may not deploy LTE services in the newly liberalised bands in the near future, they face no regulatory hurdles and will be able to plan their strategies accordingly.

Overall, it's a positive move that brings Ofcom in line with other countries, said Howett. It opens the door to a "market-based management mechanism that lets the users of radio spectrum decide its real economic value and the best way to use it".

Telefonica's O2, 3 UK and Vodafone are all planning to launch their LTE services later this year and the reactions so far are that they will stick to current plans to use 800 MHz spectrum.

3 UK in any case has no 2G network to refarm. Vodafone UK told TechRadar that the Ofcom move has no bearing on its LTE launch. 'We always wanted to run 4G on new 800MHz spectrum as it provides the level of indoor coverage our customers expect from us," the operator told the technology news service.

O2 UK also told V3 that the news was welcome but would not impact its LTE launch this summer.

For more:
- see the Ofcom document (PDF)
- see this TechRadar article
- see this V3 article

Related Articles:
3 UK mulls pooling 800 MHz spectrum with EE, may speed up LTE launch
Report: UK operators will need to trade LTE spectrum to set mobile strategies
Analysts: UK operators underpaid for LTE spectrum, for a variety of reasons
UK LTE spectrum auction draws £2.34B, below government expectations
Analyst: Vodafone, O2 have most to lose in UK LTE spectrum auction
EE slashes LTE pricing as UK spectrum auction gets underway
Report: UK LTE adoption dependent on price and performance

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