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Panel says spectrum auction can boost mobile coverage
The Communications Consumer Panel said the auction presents a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to increase reception.Ofcom should use the upcoming 4G mobile broadband auction to help improve network coverage across the UK, an advisory group has urged.
The Communications Consumer Panel (CCP) said the selling off of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands offers a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to boost the current reach of mobile reception.
According to the organisation, lack of mobile signals is affecting three million people living in not-spots, the people that pass through these areas and passengers on the rail and London Underground networks.
In a bid to put an end to this problem, the CCP is calling on Ofcom to consider implementing minimum coverage obligations for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and some English regions.
Alternatively, it stated the money generated from the auction could be retained by the regulator and used to fund a 'reverse auction' in which carriers bid to upgrade rural mobile broadband infrastructure for the lowest possible price.
The sale of 3G spectrum in 2000 raised around £20 billion and the Communication Workers Union has predicted an additional £4 billion - or even more - could be generated by the 4G auction, which is expected to commence in the first quarter of 2012.
Purely market-driven development of the UK's mobile networks has already reached its economic limit, while 3G and 4G reception is unlikely to extend beyond the current reach of 2G coverage, the CCP claimed.
As a result, the body questioned whether consumer and small business needs will be met by the use of the newly freed-up spectrum.
"Most places that were mobile coverage not-spots ten years ago are still not-spots today," said Bob Warner, chair of the panel. "The spectrum auction presents perhaps the only chance we have in the next decade to improve coverage in the nations and for rural communities.
"The potential significant windfall to the Treasury from the spectrum auction presents us with the opportunity to do something about it."