1.1 This consultation and call for inputs concerns the award of licences to use frequencies in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is preparing to release 190 MHz of radio spectrum in these bands to Ofcom to conduct an award process.
1.2 The spectrum being made available comprises:
- 2.3 GHz band: 40 MHz of spectrum between 2350 and 2390 MHz and
- 3.4 GHz band: 150 MHz of spectrum above 3410 MHz and below 3600 MHz
1.3 The spectrum will be available for civil use in Great Britain only (England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland).
1.4 The purpose of this document is to seek views on our current thinking for the award and give interested parties further information on how the bands might be made available. In addition to making specific proposals about the band plan for the 3.4 GHz band, we are seeking early views from those likely to have an interest in acquiring an assignment in these bands on a number of matters. We are particularly interested in understanding likely usage of the spectrum. Our initial view is that trends in European spectrum harmonisation mean the bands are likely to be attractive to communications companies wishing to develop 4G networks. Nevertheless, we are interested in learning of any alternative ideas for the use of this spectrum.
1.5 Section 5 of this document gives some details of our initial views on a number of aspects of a proposed award of frequencies in the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz bands, and invites comments. We have outlined our initial views on the proposed award, including on the competition issues that might arise between competitors in the mobile market if they obtain more spectrum; the method of award, including the size of any blocks of spectrum which might be offered through auction; other non-technical licence conditions and timing. We would welcome views on these issues. In due course, we will publish a formal consultation on our proposals for the award.
1.6 Our intention is to proceed with an award of licences to use these frequencies as soon as is practical - consistent with our duties and obligations, and subject to evidence provided through this consultation of stakeholder interest in acquiring access to these frequencies. We would welcome views from those interested in acquiring a licence on the optimal timing of such an award. The earliest we are practicably likely to be able make an award of this spectrum would be in the financial year 2015-16.
1.7 Spectrum is most useful if it can be as unencumbered as possible. Ofcom is working with existing users to consider the potential impact of new deployments on existing users in both the release bands and in adjacent bands. These co-existence issues and their implications will be addressed in detail in a further consultation.
1.8 In this particular document we are consulting on two specific proposals:
- a proposal to adopt an unpaired, TDD compatible , band plan for the 3.4 GHz band in the UK. Our analysis within the context of global developments and our current understanding of stakeholder views suggests this would support the most efficient use of the spectrum; and
- a proposal to vary UK Broadband's existing licence so that the 150 MHz of spectrum available for award in the 3.4 GHz band is in a single contiguous block. Ofcom believes that such a change would (a) make it easier to accommodate a range of different demands within the spectrum to be awarded, and (b) reduce the number of inter-operator frequency boundaries.
1.9 We are asking these questions about the band plan for the 3.4 GHz spectrum now so that we can progress the award of this spectrum as quickly as possible without having to consult on and consider what we anticipate will be unnecessary complexity (i.e. the need to develop technical conditions for multiple band plans and potentially the need to develop an auction design that leaves the decision over the band plan to the market). Steps are already being taken to harmonise the 2.3 GHz band across Europe for unpaired (TDD-compatible) use only, so in this case there is no decision to be made. The ongoing harmonisation of the 3.4GHz band (described later in this document) includes options for both paired and unpaired use; however, we believe there is a growing momentum in Europe, and more widely, towards unpaired use. While we do not expect a final decision from the Radio Spectrum Committee of the EU on any legally binding European harmonisation measure until March 2014, we should have a clearer picture of the likely direction of travel when the ECC meets to finalise its report to the European Commission in November.