Ofcom has today published the outcome of an assessment of whether the UK's major mobile phone networks are meeting their 3G coverage obligations.
When 3G mobile spectrum licences were awarded in 2000, they included an obligation to roll-out services to 80% of the UK by population. However, in 2010 the Government directed Ofcom to increase this obligation further, requiring operators to cover 90% of where the UK population lives.1
EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone agreed to reach this new coverage obligation by a deadline of 30 June 2013.
Once this deadline had passed, Ofcom conducted an assessment of each operator's compliance with the new coverage obligation. The outcome of this reveals that the mobile phone operators - EE, Three and O2 - have successfully met this obligation.2
However, one operator, Vodafone, failed to meet the obligation, falling 1.4% short of the 90% coverage requirement.
Vodafone's proposals for coming into compliance
Following discussions with Ofcom, Vodafone has put in place a plan to bring itself into compliance with the 3G coverage obligation by the end of 2013. This will involve rolling out 3G to more mobile masts than Vodafone had originally estimated as being necessary. Ofcom has reviewed this plan, and believes it to be credible, but will closely monitor Vodafone's implementation of the plan.
In light of Vodafone's compliance plans, Ofcom has decided not to take any enforcement action at this stage. It will assess Vodafone's compliance in January 2014 and depending on the position at that time, the possibility of taking any further action will be considered.
Ofcom's commitment to mobile coverage
Improving mobile coverage for consumers is a priority area for Ofcom. That is why we are leading or supporting initiatives to improve mobile coverage, as part of a five point plan.
The plan outlines a number of initiatives that are designed to improve mobile coverage as well as providing consumers with quality, reliable and transparent information relating to mobile reception.
This includes the important role that 4G will play in delivering near universal mobile broadband coverage within the next few years.
By 2017 at the latest, O2 is required to extend 4G coverage into indoor areas in which at least 98% of the UK population lives. This is expected to cover more than 99% of the UK population when outdoors. Other mobile operators have also indicated that they intend to match this coverage. This will help to extend mobile broadband coverage into many parts of the UK that are still underserved by 3G.
Ofcom has also committed to publish data on mobile coverage and what factors can affect mobile reception. Such information is vital for consumers when choosing the best service for their needs.
3G and 4G mobile broadband speeds research
Finally, Ofcom will also be carrying out research to measure the performance of 3G and 4G mobile networks. This will assess the average mobile broadband speeds received by 3G and 4G customers. The research is designed to help consumers understand the performance benefits of 4G over 3G mobile services and assist them in making informed purchasing decisions.
Ofcom expects to publish the results of this research in spring 2014.
A statement on Ofcom’s 3G coverage obligation assessment is available on the Ofcom website.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The 3G spectrum licences (located in the 2100 MHz frequency band) held by each of EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone contain an obligation to provide and then maintain a network capable of providing a specified mobile broadband data service to an area within which at least 90% of the population of the United Kingdom lives. The deadline for meeting that obligation was 30 June 2013.
2. The 3G coverage obligation was added to the 3G licences following a direction by the Secretary of State to Ofcom in December 2010 to vary the 3G licences to include this obligation, as well as to make those licences of indefinite duration. The variations could only be effected with the agreement of the licensees. Each of EE, Three, Telefonica and Vodafone consented to those variations being made.
3. The scope of this assessment was to assess whether or not operators were meeting the 90% coverage obligation, rather than calculating an overall coverage percentage for each operator.
4. Ofcom’s methodology for assessing compliance with the 3G coverage obligation can be found at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/consultations/2100-MHz-Third-Generation-Mobile/annexes/methodology.pdf
5. Ofcom’s UK Mobile Services Map 2013 provides information on the level of outdoor mobile coverage in the UK by administrative authority.
Note added to statement on 30 January 2014: For clarity, the proportion by which Vodafone missed its target was 1.488%. The number has been truncated in this news release to one decimal place (1.4%).