The 4G roll-out has been a complex beast, on one side we see the politicians hoping for a handsome dividend from the 800 MHz spectrum freed up as part of the Digital Switchover plus a bonus for the sale of the 2600 MHz spectrum, and on the other hand we have the mobile operators keen not to bankrupt themselves in a fight for bandwidth.
The to and fro of this saw one breakthrough when Everything Everywhere soft launched a 4G service on its existing 1800 MHz spectrum, but last minute agreements have seen the actual ability to buy the service delayed until sometime in October it is believed. Today has Culture Secretary Maria Miller attempting to mediate on a deal where everything will be happy enough and avoid lengthy legal battles.
The most likely result of the meeting between Government, Ofcom and the mobile operators may see the 4G auction being brought forward and Everything Everywhere going ahead to launch its service.
The money raised from the auction will be partly used to mitigate interference between FreeView and the 800 MHz spectrum (£180m will be used for this mitigation), which will mainly be an issue for those close to 4G cell sites or who own an older FreeView set-top box. The amount of money that the auctions will raise is a big unknown, the Labour Party is hoping for enough to kick start a 100,000 property building programme, which seems unlikely, something more like £1bn to £2bn are more likely, which would be enough to offset all the money the Government has set aside for Next Generation Broadband subsidy programmes.
The 4G roll-out, once complete, is meant to offer a 98% coverage figure for the UK, but as with existing 3G and 2G coverage, many are sceptical. We hope that the desire to avoid lengthy legal action does not result in any watering down of the coverage ambitions for 4G. If 4G is to actually offer better broadband coverage than the decade old 3G, we will need a lot more mast sites, and the difference in range performance between 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2600 MHz means that the operators with devices working in the lowest spectrum will be the ones to choose in rural areas.