Categories: Spectrum, Spectrum Auction

Spectrum auctions: looking to the UK to tackle the US conundrum

Spectrum auctions: looking to the UK to tackle the US conundrum

With the Federal Communications Commission set to tackle as many as three spectrum auctions over the next 12 to 18 months, there is considerable debate as to how rules should be set up governing the bidding process. The domestic auction garnering the highest level of debate is the 600 MHz incentive auction, which is scheduled to commence in late 2014 or early 2015.

One side of the debate is looking to limit the amount of spectrum that can be acquired by wireless heavyweights Verizon Wireless and AT&T, citing their already considerable holdings below 1 GHz. That side also claims that limitations will foster greater competition, with a segment of this “side” also arguing for smaller slices of spectrum should be made available to encourage regional companies to participate.

The other side argues that in order to generate the greatest amount of revenues for the federal coffers, the auction should be conducted with the briefest list of rules that would encourage spectrum to be placed in the hands of operators with the deepest pockets in order to put those assets to greatest use. That side also feels that the use of spectrum rules to regulate competition is beyond the scope of the FCC.

RCR Wireless News recently spoke with Dr. Simon Saunders, director of technology at U.K.-based Real Wireless, about ways in which the FCC can set up rules that most benefit consumers, federal needs and wireless carriers.

Saunders noted that Real Wireless gleaned significant expertise in this department through its recent work with U.K. regulator Ofcom in connection with the recent auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum set aside for the launch of “4G” services across the United Kingdom. That auction generated $3.5 billion in total bids, which while lower than forecasts, did seem to provide an operational amount of spectrum to most of the companies that participated in the event. In fact, a number of wireless carriers in the United Kingdom have already launched LTE services, including one operator that just last week announced the launch of LTE-Advanced services providing theoretical downlink speeds of up to 300 megabits per second.

In executing the auction, Saunders noted that Ofcom set aside a need to raise the most money from the actual auction and instead looked at the long-term benefits of getting spectrum into the hands of carriers without crippling their ability to then invest in the necessary infrastructure to make use of that spectrum. That lesson was learned the hard way by a number of European countries following 3G auctions more than a decade ago.

Saunders also explained that freeing up additional spectrum resources in higher spectrum bands targeting small cell deployments could also ease the burden on carriers that will also launch LTE services in the sub-1 GHz space. This is being supported by the FCC, which late last year unveiled a notice of proposed rulemaking to create a “Citizens Broadband Service” in the 3.5 GHz spectrum band that “will promote two major advances that enable more efficient use of radio spectrum: small cells and spectrum sharing.”

As part of the NPRM, the FCC is looking at whether it will be feasible to open up approximately 100 megahertz of spectrum in the 3550-3650 MHz bands for small cell technologies, possibly on an unlicensed basis. Currently, the most prolific unlicensed spectrum used for wireless services resides in the 2.4 GHz band that is used for Wi-Fi services.

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