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January 14, 2019
According to Ofcom’s annual report, mobile and broadband coverage are improving in the UK, but too many rural areas still get a poor signal.
Ofcom notes that while there have been improvements in mobile coverage, it wants to see faster progress in rolling out mobile internet to areas still lacking good coverage. Ofcom has therefore set out updated plans to release new airwaves for mobile services, including requirements for operators to significantly increase outdoor data coverage.
Ofcom says that it plans to auction two spectrum bands for mobile services together, in late 2019 or early 2020:
- the 700 MHz band; and
- the 3.6 GHz – 3.8 GHz band.
Ofcom plans to include binding coverage rules with the spectrum, meaning that up to two winning bidders would each have to, within four years of the award:
- extend good, outdoor data coverage to at least 90% of the UK’s entire land area within four years of the award;
- improve coverage for at least 140,000 homes and offices which they do not already cover, meaning that new coverage will be targeted at areas that are harder to reach; and
- provide coverage from at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas to ensure operators transform coverage in areas where it is lacking, rather than meeting the rules by just boosting existing signals.
Ofcom says that during next year’s auction, the price for winning airwaves that carry these rules would be discounted by up to £300-400 million to reflect the significant investment required to meet them, and the social benefits they will deliver.
Ofcom has also published plans to allow certain spectrum to be shared by different users, to support innovation and local coverage initiatives across the UK economy. This includes proposals to make spectrum available for shared use in the 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz bands, which can be used by existing mobile handsets. It also plans to enable third parties to use airwaves that are licensed to mobile operators, but not being used by them. This could be particularly suitable for local communities to boost coverage.
Ofcom’s Connected Nations report also shows progress made in extending ‘decent’ broadband coverage to the whole country, which has reduced from 4% to 2% the number of homes without decent broadband to in the last year (‘decent’ meaning a download speed of 10 Mbit/s, and an upload speed of 1 Mbit/s). There have also been improvements to the availability of superfast, ultrafast and full-fibre broadband. These are detailed in the report, as well as Ofcom’s work with industry to help ensure the safety and reliability of the UK’s communications networks. To access the Connected Nations report, click here.