Ofcom may allow operator mobile spectrum trading

Mobile operators could eventually be allowed to trade spectrum currently used for calls,
messaging and data browsing if a consultation by Ofcom proves positive.

It is hoped that these plans will help operators manage the strain that increased traffic has on the current networks and therefore  help deliver faster and more reliable mobile services for consumers.

Spectrum is important to the mobile phone and mobile broadband industry, which rely on it to carry information between customers’ handsets and mobile masts. There are 80 million mobiles in the UK and more than £12.8 million of these are smart phones, used by people to access the internet. This is placing big demands on spectrum.

Under the proposals, which cover spectrum at 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz, operators with a greater need for spectrum will be able to make offers for spectrum from those who need it less. It is hoped that this added flexibility will help operators to respond more quickly to demand.

“This is an important milestone in the modernisation of spectrum management in the UK. It is a response to the innovation in the mobile communications sector, which is placing increased demands on spectrum,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive.

“One important way of meeting this demand is making the acquisition of spectrum as flexible as possible.”

Over the past two decades, mobile phone companies in the UK have traditionally acquired blocks of licensed spectrum. The more spectrum an operator holds, the more telephone conversations and internet traffic it can carry over its network.

However, not all operators hold the same amount of spectrum, and the level of demand for mobile services also differs from area to area.

By allowing operators to trade their spectrum, Ofcom believes that there will be greater opportunities to use it more efficiently. It’s also an earner for trade.

Under the plan, Ofcom would act as the intermediary for spectrum trading, with the power to permit or reject trades.

The consultation is set to take six weeks, and trades are expected to begin in the summer.