Ofcom has made the greater availability of superfast broadband and mobile services one of its main priorities for the next financial year, promising to make progress on the government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) and rural 4G coverage initiatives.
The regulator’s 2019-2020 Annual Plan confirmed plans to designate one or two companies for the USO, most likely BT and KCOM as per Ofcom’s recommendations in December, and to continue plans to open up Openreach’s network of ducts and poles.
This, Ofcom argues, will make it cheaper, quicker and easier for rivals to build fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) infrastructure that will boost competition in the UK and achieve the government’s goals of a nationwide fibre network.
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There was also a promise to create a regulatory environment that allows for a smooth launch of 5G, as well as a pledge to improve rural 4G. According to Ofcom, only 41 per cent of rural premises receive what could be classified as “good” coverage.
To remedy this, Ofcom plans to attach coverage obligations to spectrum at its next auction, which will see 00MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz airwaves made available to mobile operators in time for Spring 2020.
700MHz spectrum has long range and high indoor penetration, while 3.6-3.8GHz offers high capacity for 5G.
If an operator wins a package of spectrum with obligations attached, they will have to extend “good” mobile coverage to at least 90 per cent of the UK within four years, improve coverage for at least 140,000 homes and offices their networks don’t already cover, and provide coverage from at least 500 new sites.
To reflect the investment required, Ofcom will discount the licences for spectrum carrying these rules by between £300 million and £400 million.
Beyond network, Ofcom has promised to ensure fairer, more transparent pricing of communications services.
This will mean operators have to be clear about the handset and airtime components of a monthly contract, while they will also have to inform customers of the best available deal when a minimum term is concluded.
Finally, Ofcom has also said it will continue to support customers during the Brexit and work with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to ensure the UK’s communication infrastructure is resilient and protected against any potential threats.
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