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Spectrum policy

Radio spectrum is the key raw material for our mobile business. The rapid take-up of smartphones and tablets, and the increasing use of video services over mobile, means that mobile network capacity needs to be expanded constantly.

Re-farming existing spectrum to allow the introduction of the latest radio technologies such as LTE is important to help meet this growing demand. But governments and spectrum users need to work together in the future to identify, clear, release and allocate additional bands of globally harmonised spectrum for dedicated use by mobile operators. Frequencies below 1GHz are particularly important to carry nationwide mobile broadband services.

With the identification of the 700 MHz band internationally for mobile broadband services, governments need to start the planning process early, to ensure that consumers across our markets are not delayed in enjoying the benefits of this important global standard.

We believe that:

  • Well designed and run spectrum auctions are the most efficient way to allocate new spectrum, and are most effective when multiple bands are auctioned at the same time.

  • In setting auction reserve prices, authorities should seek to recover only administration costs, and not allow prices to be influenced by national fiscal ambitions.

  • Early, fair and cost-effective spectrum allocation will give companies and their shareholders the confidence to invest in new mobile internet services, which will underpin future economic growth in the countries in which we operate.

  • Spectrum licences should be perpetual, or easily renewed well in advance of expiry at moderate cost.  Spectrum trading can also help to ensure spectrum can be acquired by those who attach the most value to it.

  • Licence exempt or shared spectrum (e.g. wifi) can be a useful supplement to licensed spectrum bands, but is not a substitute.  Where a regulator has the choice, licensing spectrum on a dedicated basis will be more efficient than shared access.

  • To ensure a fair market, equality between spectrum users is crucial - in terms of pricing and access, and between existing licensees and potential entrants. Ring-fencing, or reserving, spectrum for a new entrant puts existing licensees at a competitive disadvantage and results in a distorted and inefficient market.

  • Consumers are best served by multiple network operators competing freely in a market. This can be enhanced through voluntary tower or network sharing, but we are sceptical where governments in some developing markets claim that consumers would be better served by a single wholesale wireless monopoly network.

Additionally, when examining merger proposals, competition authorities should consider the risk of spectrum consolidation adversely impacting competition.

The latest report in our Policy Paper series examines spectrum policy in emerging markets and the impacts on GDP and the impacts on GDP and jobs growth.