Added by Chris Pateman | Tuesday 11th July 2017
So after the great and glorious ongoing debacle of the '4G' spectrum auction, Ofcom is back with the first in a series of '5G' spectrum auctions. Seemingly having learned nothing from experience.
Once again, Ofcom's starting position has been the self-fulfilling ‘four legs good, three legs bad’ mantra which has characterized the UK mobile market for the last 20 years.
Yes, they have acted to prevent four MNOs becoming three, and here they further forestall the risk of three becoming two. But they have made no provision to encourage the rich possibilities which might flow if four ever became 20.
Ofcom persists in claiming the UK mobile market works well for consumers, compared with other EU markets. But that’s a bit like saying communism worked better for Hungarians than it did for East Germans. How much better would things have been under capitalism?
Four mobile network operators control 100% of the market. Either directly or through emasculating MVNO or dealer agreements which create the illusion of wholesale competition, but with none of the protections enjoyed by resellers in the fixed telephony space.
The effect is to stifle consumer and business choice with a complex monopoly which exhibits four-way redundancy in some parts of the country and local SMP (if anything at all!) in others. Meanwhile, both government and the regulator colludes in claiming the market is ‘working well for consumers’.
But let us take comfort from the crumbs of this morning’s announcement. We are pleased to see Ofcom listened to the industry’s concerns about the risk of too much spectrum being owned by EE/BT. The decision to impose a spectrum cap on the 3.4GHz band as well as the more immediately usable 2.3GHz is especially welcome: it will help reduce the risk of sequestration and monopoly approaches as new equipment becomes available.
But FCS has always argued the mobile market is fundamentally broken. And that spectrum caps are a very blunt patch with which to prevent it breaking further. Meanwhile, as the networks eye up 700MHz, the campaign for really meaningful wholesale mobile access continues.