UK: Ofcom Consultation On The Award Of 4G Spectrum – Largest Ever Single UK Award

Last Updated: 11 April 2011
Article by Chris Watson and Joanne Wheeler

Ofcom has published1 the first in a series of consultations long-awaited by the industry on the forthcoming auction (Auction) of mobile spectrum in the UK (Consultation), which has as its aim an assessment of future competition in the mobile services market and its proposals on the award of the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum (New Spectrum).

Access to the New Spectrum is vital to the commercial success of existing and new entrant mobile operators.

The four UK mobile operators: Everything Everywhere; O2; Vodafone; and Hutchison 3G (3), are the key stakeholders in the outcome of the Consultation, each struggling to cope with the vast increase in UK consumer demand for mobile data. 3 was particularly concerned following Ofcom's decision in January 2011 to allow operators to offer 3G services using their spectrum previously licensed for 2G services only (3 having invested heavily – and exclusively – in the 3G spectrum auction in 2000 (3G Auction). Other parties with a vested interest in the Consultation outcome include the emergency services and Program Making and Special Events (PMSE) users, who currently operate in or adjacent to the New Spectrum. The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has expressed the importance of the New Spectrum for the use of wireless cameras during the Olympic Games (see below).

The Auction is the largest ever in the UK, equivalent to three quarters of mobile spectrum in use today. It is 80% larger than the 3G Auction which raised £22.5 billion for the UK Government. The New Spectrum will be used by mobile operators to deliver 4G mobile technologies such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access Technology (WiMAX) but is likely to raise far smaller revenues than the 3G auction.

The New Spectrum comes from two sources: the lower-frequency 800 MHz and (part of the digital dividend from the switch from analogue to digital TV in the UK and well-suited to providing wide coverage, which will benefit rural areas); and the higher-frequency 2.6 GHz band (currently used for PMSE and well-suited for delivering high capacity and high speeds to urban areas).


At the heart of the Consultation is the issue of competition in the market for the provision of mobile communications services. The Consultation considers the likely evolution of the market and highlights the importance of safeguarding the efficient use of mobile spectrum (taking into account the current distribution of spectrum between the four UK mobile operators). In particular, Ofcom attaches value to the sub-1GHz spectrum for operators to be able to offer higher quality data services, particularly indoors.

Overall, Ofcom identifies a material risk that only two or three mobile operators capable of providing higher-quality data services in a profitable way may emerge from the Auction, and plans to restrict the nature of the Auction to allay this risk by way of 'spectrum flows' and 'spectrum caps'. Spectrum flows will operate to ensure that there are a minimum number of licensees, each with a minimum amount of spectrum, and spectrum caps will operate to calculate the amount the spectrum licensee can hold.
Ofcom considers that the market will likely evolve in three areas:

(1) high quality data with reliable annual coverage;

(2) a separate market with higher data speeds and better latency (delivered by LTE) which is distinct from the market associated with lower data speeds (delivered by 2G and 3G);

(3) priority of service markets; for example, highly reliable business services versus standard consumer services. 
Services existing in and adjacent to the New Spectrum

Ofcom has previously identified the potential for interference to networks already operating adjacent to or near the New Spectrum2 and this is considered in the Consultation.  It plans to publish a separate consultation in the next few months, addressing the issue and potential restrictions in more detail.

In relation to emergency services (whose systems currently operate around the 800 MHz band), Ofcom has been working with the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to assess the risk and plan for mitigation against interference.  Ofcom proposes that the Government will meet any justifiable costs that emergency services incur as a result of any such mitigation. The need to avoid disruption to the operation of emergency services at the Olympic Games between June and September 2012 is a key consideration for Ofcom.

In relation to cable TV systems (which, although not wireless, operate near the 800 MHz band and are susceptible to interference), Ofcom worked with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Virgin Media and technical consultants during 2010 to assess the scale of potential interference.  The main conclusions were that the potential impact is manageable and that there is time to contend with the issue.  Virgin Media and other cable operators will be encouraged to review their frequency plans and replace hardware where necessary before mid-2013.  They are also advised to make an effort to educate their customers on how to avoid interference.  

The use of the 2.6 GHz band by mobile operators will likely interfere with radar, which commonly operates in the 2.7 to 3.1 GHz band.  Ofcom proposes that mobile network operators in the 2.6 GHz band will need to coordinate with radar operators, and radar operators will likely be required to modify and upgrade their equipment.  Ofcom has advised air traffic control radar operators of the likely impact and proposes to amend Wireless Telegraphy Act3 licences to ensure that necessary modifications are made to mitigate potential interference due to mobile operators operating in the 2.6 GHz band.

In respect of the Olympic Games, Ofcom has elected to reserve the whole 2.6 GHz band for wireless cameras between 28 June and 23 September 2012.  The result will be that licences issued in the Auction to mobile operators for the 2.6 GHz band may temporarily exclude use for operating new services, depending on demand at the time of the Olympic Games.

At present, the 2.6 GHz band is currently licensed for PMSE use.  Ofcom proposes that access to these frequencies for PMSE will cease with three months' notice, which will begin on the date of the announcement of the provisional application date to participate in the Auction. Ofcom is also considering allocating part of the currently unassigned 3.1 GHz band to PMSE on a temporary basis.

New Spectrum Licences

Ofcom has proposed that licences in the New Spectrum shall have an indefinite duration, subject to revocation. It considers that such a structure would promote optimal use of the spectrum as a whole and promote competition. To provide certainty, Ofcom has proposed that during an initial term of twenty years, New Spectrum licences could only be revoked for very limited reasons, such as non-payment of the relevant licence fee and national security. After the initial term, additional licence fees would be payable and the licence subject to revocation on spectrum management grounds on five years' notice.

Licences will be subject to a condition of extension of coverage to 95% of the UK population.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 31 May 2011.  The Auction is timetabled for the first quarter of 2012 and Ofcom's anticipated start date for granting licences in the New Spectrum is 1 January 2013.  


1. Consultation published on 22 March 2011, click here. The announcement is pursuant to the direction to Ofcom by the UK Government in December 2010 (Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 (Directions to Ofcom) Order 2010 (click here),  click here. for Law-Now article.  This follows previous consultations in 2008, 2007 and 2006 through which Ofcom developed and refined proposals for the award and the technical and non-technical licence conditions and award rules.
2.  Click here for statement
3. Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, click here.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 06/04/2011.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions