Ofcom opens up 3G switchover

Communications regulator Ofcom has cleared the way for mobile operators to use their 2G airwaves for 3G use, increasing mobile internet speeds and expanding coverage in rural areas.

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The 2G network was previously reserved only for phone calls and text messaging but the “refarming” will now allow 3G services such as mobile internet browsing.

The move will ease the pressure on a currently strained 3G spectrum due to increasing use of smartphones and demand for data.

Download speeds are expected to be faster, meaning video and live TV can be better-implemented on mobile internet.

Ofcom says the spectrum refarming will benefit the end-users as well as operators by providing “greater network capacity allowing more customers to be served and to enjoy higher mobile speeds”.

Previously mobile operators could only use a limited amount of the 2G spectrum to deliver 3G, with the remainder of the holdings licensed in the 1990s on the condition it could only be used for 2G services.

The UK was required to free-up the spectrum for 3G use after the introduction of two pieces of European legislation (the amended GSM Directive and associated Radio Spectrum Decision).

The Government directed Ofcom to vary the existing licenses to achieve the liberalisation on 20 December 2010 and it came into force on 30 December 2010 while Ofcom investigated “competition” issues.

Today’s report assesses competition concerns raised by various brands including Everything Everywhere, Cable & Wireless and Samsung

Ofcom plans to auction the airwaves before 2012, but it is unclear how much operators will need to pay for their allocation.

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