Ofcom liberalises spectrum, operators can now use 2G, 3G bands for 4G LTE


UK regulator Ofcom has ruled that mobile operators can now re-use their 2G and 3G spectrum bands in order to provide faster mobile broadband speeds.

All licences in each of the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands are now liberalised, permitting the use of 4G LTE technology, as well as increasing the maximum permitted power in the 900 MHz licences by 3 decibels.

“This decision delivers a long standing objective to liberalise all mobile licences so as to remove the regulatory barriers to deployment of the latest available mobile technology,” the statement read.

However, Ovum’s principal regulation analyst Matthew Howett does not believe that operators will start using their 2G and 3G spectrum for 4G immediately.

"Despite operators being able to deploy 4G services in these bands previously restricted to 2G and 3G technologies, most are unlikely to do so in the short term,” he said.

“They would first need to be cleared of their existing use through a process of refarming that would probably takes years rather than months, and so the spectrum recently auctioned by Ofcom will most likely be used for Vodafone, O2 and Three’s initial deployment of 4G services. EE was only able to refarm its 1800MHz spectrum and launch 4G services in this band given their large and contiguous spectrum holding.”

EE is currently the only mobile operator with a commercial 4G LTE network.

Last summer, the European Commission ordered EE to divest 2x15 MHz of spectrum as part of the merger, which the operator sold to Three.

At the same time, Ofcom gave permission for EE to refarm its existing 1800 MHz spectrum to offer 4G LTE services, which greatly annoyed EE’s rivals Vodafone and Telefónica O2.

Vodafone and O2 both petitioned Ofcom to bring the 4G LTE auction forward, while Vodafone and Three petitioned Ofcom to let them reuse existing spectrum for 4G LTE services.

Ofcom said that even though operators may not seek to deploy 4G services in the newly liberalised bands in the immediate future, “the interests of consumers will be served by the fact that these bands have been liberalised now, ahead of a market led transition to their use for 4G technology in future”.

Operators can plan and implement a transition to 4G technology in these bands “without having to engage in a further regulatory process”, the regulator concluded.