Ofcom's to-do list: Number porting, sell spectrum, buy milk

MVNO issues also pretty important, says specialist lawyers DLA Piper

Cell tower, view from below. Image by Shutterstock.com

Ofcom has set out its objectives for 2015/16, and they're broadly as outlined in the draft report.

There is increased interest in consumer number portability to improve the switching providers process, clearer pricing on the previously announced spectrum auctions, as well as the hotly anticipated Strategic Review of Digital Communications.

The information on number portability is squarely aimed at consumers.

It will become gaining-provider led, so that if you move from one network to another, the acquiring network gets to do all the paperwork.

Mike Conradi, a partner specialising in commercial and regulatory telecoms advice at global law firm DLA Piper, thinks this is unnecessary. “I’m not convinced that number portability is as important as it used to be,” he told us.

He believes that the current system works well, although it's taken the telcos a while to reach this stage.

He believes a more important aspect is portability for MVNOs, so that if a company such as Virgin, for example, was unhappy with its host (EE) being bought by BT, it could move its business to Three or Vodafone without having to re-issue numbers and SIMs.

Conradi claims that the EU rulings requiring the host network to give up numbers are unclear.

Freeview fans will be pleased (that’s you Nigel), and telecoms fans disappointed that the statement on 700MHz remains the same:

“We are aiming to award 190MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, and will work to prepare the 700MHz band for release for mobile spectrum in 2022 (or earlier if practicable)."

Note that it said “award”, not “auction”. So, although an auction is the most likely scenario – given that BT is expected to have swallowed EE and 3 to have consumed O2 by the time it happens – there might be an interest in another mechanism, perhaps to introduce a new fourth player.

Vodafone feels that the 2.6GHz spectrum BT possesses should be sold off, as a combined BT/EE will have over 50 per cent of the 4G spectrum.

The 2022 date for the exceptionally valuable 700MHz space would put the UK well behind other countries. Some are looking to allocate that space this year, but the UK can’t do that because of Freeview and technology such as the radio mics used by the entertainment industry.

It might also be premature, as there is precious little hardware.

Given the governmental interest in killing not-spots – ideally while making money from telcos and not letting them build 100-foot masts – 2022 seems a long way off.

Bringing it forward to 2020 would put us more or less in line with the rest of Europe, and tie in better with the availability of devices. A shade earlier might see the money in the exchequer before the 2020 election.

You can find the full plan for Ofcom’s year ahead here. ®

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