With over 90% of UK adults now owning a mobile phone, and the rapid growth of the mobile internet, consumer expectations of network coverage have dramatically increased over the past decade.
There a number of changes planned to our network to help meet this demand; the most important of these is the rollout of the low frequency spectrum, at 800 MHz, which Three acquired in 2013. Low frequency spectrum covers three times the distance of Three’s existing spectrum holdings, and the rollout of this valuable resource will have a transformative effect for many customers.
However, to ensure that mobile networks can continue to improve coverage on a commercial basis, there are a number of competitive bottlenecks that policy makers need to address. These include:
• Reform of the Electronic Communications Code (ECC).
The ECC, which governs the relationship between landowners and network operators, is in urgent need of reform. Under the current system, poor access rights and high rental costs are stifling investment - reducing scope for network extension in rural and remote locations.
• Fair and open competition in transmission.
In order to transmit mobile data traffic across Three’s network, each mobile site needs sufficient capacity ‘backhaul’. Mobile operators lease backhaul connections, which bridge the gap between a mast and the main network. Unfortunately though, only 20% of UK postcodes have two or more backhaul providers. This has meant higher prices for backhaul provision, making rollout in some locations prohibitively expensive.
Ofcom and Government need to implement measures to reform broken markets, both in site rentals and backhaul, which would lower the barrier to new entrants and promote competition.