Ability to provide good quality coverage – Ofcom Report on Auction Outcomes
Viewing the quality of coverage from the perspective of the consumer experience, Ofcom considers various aspects such as where the consumers can obtain a service, the speed where it is available and the consistency of experience as consumers seek to use mobile data services in different locations. Ofcom has also considered the importance of this dimension to the credibility of a national wholesaler.
Coverage can be provided by the macro cell network and alternative means like small cells solutions like Wi-Fi and femtocells. Currently Wi-Fi plays an important role in providing services to mobile devices. Ofcom expects that Wi-Fi and small cells will continue to play an important role in future as well.
An important issue in the responses was with regard to sub-1 GHz spectrum. Whether sub-1 GHz spectrum was necessary for a national wholesaler to be credible, EE and H3G argued that it was necessary and H3G referred to statements on the value and advantages of sub-1 GHz spectrum by other mobile operators, regulators and academics while Telefonica and Vodafone argued that it was not necessary.
Ofcom is of the opinion that sub-1 GHz spectrum would give national wholesalers some advantage relative to those that do not have sub-1 GHz spectrum as sub-1 GHz spectrum is particularly valuable compared to higher frequencies. But just because sub-1 GHz spectrum is valuable or gives advantages does not necessarily mean holding it is a necessary requirement to be capable of being a credible national wholesaler.
Ofcom considered the scale of the advantage that sub-1 GHz spectrum gives to a national wholesaler in a macro cell network compared to 1800 MHz and 2.1 GHz spectrum and other ways that a national wholesaler can provide good quality coverage such as the use of Wi-Fi. Alternative technologies like small cells can be used to deliver services indoor. For e.g. The use of Wi-Fi in particular is widespread and deployments are growing. Wi-Fi is currently extremely important in terms of delivering data to mobile devices, especially in the home. Hence the regulator considers that alternative technologies as an important way for a national wholesaler to provide good quality coverage with higher frequencies in certain circumstances.
Ofcom considers that it may also be possible for a national wholesaler without sub-1 GHz spectrum to partly close the coverage gap by building more macro sites than networks using sub-1 GHz spectrum. National wholesalers can, to a significant extent, make choices between different ways of providing coverage and a different balance between spectrum and network costs. A national wholesaler can invest in the high costs of acquiring or retaining sub-1 GHz spectrum which allows it to provide coverage, economising on network costs in terms of fewer sites for macro cells and small cells.