Ofcom calls on mobile networks to improve 4G coverage before tabling 5G bids

Credit: Oskari Porkka via iStock

Mobile operators have been told to improve 4G coverage if they wish to bid for 5G spectrum.

The UK's four operators successfully hit their target of delivering 4G to 90 per cent of the country by the end of last year. However, telecoms regulator Ofcom has said it now wants mobile companies to go further.

"We are planning new requirements for when we release spectrum in the 700MHz band for mobile services, which we expect to auction in late 2019," it commented.

Ofcom is proposing that winning bidders of some of the spectrum be required to roll out improved 4G mobile coverage in rural areas. This would include 4G provision for premises that are currently unable to access good coverage from any operator. 

Furthermore, the proposal would force mobile companies to improve coverage in each of the UK's nations.

Ofcom said the coverage levels for the planned obligations use its new, enhanced mobile coverage measure, which reflects the fact that modern mobile devices "receive far more data, but also require stronger signals than older phones".

"As we announced in our Connected Nations report in December 2017, we have changed the way we measure coverage to reflect the growing usage and expectations of smartphone users," the watchdog said.

This, it said, means the coverage obligations it has suggested will extend coverage much further and bring improved mobile reception to more rural, harder-to-reach areas. 

Ofcom recently announced that six companies have qualified to take part in the upcoming spectrum auction – Airspan Spectrum Holdings, EE, Connexin, Hutchison 3G UK, Telefónica UK and Vodafone.

Philip Marnick, spectrum group director at Ofcom, said: "We’re pressing ahead with the auction to make these airwaves available as quickly as possible. This will benefit today’s mobile users by providing more capacity for mobile broadband use. 

"It will also pave the way for 5G – allowing operators to launch the next generation of mobile technology."