We can’t claim to have spoken to every single person with an interest in spectrum policy, but we do have a pretty good proxy: PolicyTracker’s most-read stories of 2015. Some you will guess, but some will surprise you….
The UHF band generated much interest in 2015, with 700 MHz getting particular attention from our readers. France sold six blocks of 2 x 5 MHz spectrum in the band at an auction where Bouygues, Free, Orange and SFR paid a total of €2.8 billion – a price conveniently close to the size of the hole in the French defence budget, some observed.
France’s November auction followed Germany’s multiband auction in June, Europe’s first allocation of 700 MHz spectrum (and the most-read PolicyTracker story of the year). This raised some €5 billion and lasted 16 working days, 14 longer than France’s 700 MHz auction. There was speculation that Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica were keeping demand low in order to depress prices, but if this was the case, Vodafone was first to drop the strategy and some 700 MHz lots ended one day’s bidding with bids fifty per cent higher than where they started.
Spectrum was also on offer in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1.5 GHz bands and while new entrants were exempted from stringent roll-out conditions in an effort to bring German MVNOs into the game, it was the big players that won the day.
The main event
WRC-15 gave PolicyTracker plenty to write about – and with good reason, from lower UHF to the C-band, L-band, and all the way up to the high GHz, talks were characterised by a shall-we-say healthy sense of debate. Not everyone saw it that way, however, with one reader telling our WRC-15 survey that “intramural squabbling threatened to derail the process at several points”. That reader wasn’t the only one with concerns about processes, but many were upbeat about the delicate compromises fashioned by delegates, who eschewed sleep in order to meet the deadline.
And we reported on all the twists along the way, beginning with presaging the controversial decision to vote for no change in lower UHF with a piece on Ofcom and the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) holding very different views on the band. No change on lower UHF until 2023 was a blow for the mobile industry, as was the mobile industry’s less-than-hoped for chunk of the C-band, which meant more than a billion people were excluded from the IMT identified market as a result but there was succor in other frequencies. Parts of the L-band had a close-to-global IMT identification and 700 MHz, although waiting in the wings since WRC-12, got its rubber stamp.
In other policy news, the Latvian presidency of the European Council provided one of the more surprising stories of the year when it said it will focus on price control policies such as “roam like at home” and net neutrality, rather than European spectrum harmonisation policies. Going somewhat against the grain of the EC’s 2013 single market ambitions, the story caught the attention of plenty of readers. With Berec, the Latvia-based body of European regulators, now calling for less of a top-down approach to frequency allocation, this could be an interesting one to watch in 2016.
The year wouldn’t have been complete without its crop of 5G stories and PolicyTracker dutifully followed the developments in the future of mobile, but the 5G story that caught the eye of most of our readers was the mobile industry’s Next Generation Mobile Networks Group’s white paper outlining its vision for 5G, which included the need for network operators to have between 500 and 1000 MHz of contiguous space each. Technical and radio standards for 5G will no doubt become more of a topic in the run-up to what the ITU is calling IMT-2020.
Finally, a topic that garnered a perhaps surprising amount of attention was the development of LTE PPDR and its harmonisation. Although still a relatively nascent area, two stories were of particular interest to readers. The first, which was also the second-most-read story of the year came in July when France chose to exercise its right under European law to allocate a 2 x 5 MHz and a 2 x 3 MHz block in 700 MHz for use by the PPDR sector. WRC-15 also saw a large step towards harmonisation when Agenda Item 1.3, relating to the prospect of the World Radio Conference earmarking LTE spectrum for use by the public protection and disaster relief (PPDR) sector, and a harmonised range in 694-894 MHz was passed. One observer said the decision was “historic” and judging by the number of readers who took a look at the story, his comments were no hyperbole.