More pressure has been piled on Ofcom and the government by the publication of a report by the Open Digital Policy organisation suggesting that delays to the UK 4 G license auctions will cost the country dear. The delay to the auction has been caused by apparent threat of legal action by a number of carriers including O2.
ODP looked at the speed, capacity and coverage improvements next generation mobile broadband (known as 4G or LTE) is likely to bring, and estimated that over 37 million business hours per year could be saved from faster mobile data downloads if 4G mobile technology was to be deployed sooner than is currently planned.
Earlier this year I chaired a debate on mobile spectrum allocation at Portcullis House in Westminster. The issue of 4G spectrum allocation is a hot potato. The three largest mobile carriers O2, Vodafone and Everything Manyplaces, have existing voice bandwidth that they are being allowed to reuse for data. 3 does not so this delay will not only cost UK business but will likely have a deleterious effect on the number 4 operator (this is clearly a numbers game).
Ofcom, the UK regulatory authority tasked with allocating the necessary radio spectrum, does not anticipate the first commercial 4G services to come online before 2013, and nationwide roll-out won’t be complete before 2017. This schedule of course does nothing to help the government which is trying to achieve ubiquitous 2Mbps broadband coverage by 2015. 4G could be a big contributor towards reaching this goal, regardless of what you think of the 2Meg number.
Notwithstanding this issue of coverage, ODP has estimated that if Ofcom were to adopt more ambitious roll-out targets the time saved by UK businesses could be worth £732 million per year.
The plan to start UK deployment in 2013 is 4 years behind the world’s first LTE deployments in Oslo and Stockolm and 3 years behind the first commercial service in the United States.
I’m not sure what the right answer is here, other than to cut through the red tape and just get on with things. Life is never that simple. We only have to look at the outrageously indecent haste with which the Digital Economy Act was rushed through parliament to see what can go wrong with trying to speed things up.
Also big organisations with large legal departments are masters of the tactical delay and in this case the stakes are high with mobile data being seen as one of the major growth areas over the next few years driven by the smart phone revolution and the adoption of the cloud. You can read the report here 4GLTE-20111004. It has lots of useful links for reference.