The Swiss regulatory body Ofcom today announced that it is initiating preparations to enable the launch of a new procedure for the granting of concessions for wireless broadband access (the concessions themselves would be granted by the Communications Commission ComCom in the second half of the year 2005).

In this context, Ofcom published a report which contains technical, economic and legal/regulatory analyses, and a consultation document, which is essentially a questionnaire addressed to potentially interested parties.

Very importantly, one of the first questions put forward by Ofcom is whether the wireless broadband access frequencies should be made available only for the provision of fixed services, or also for mobile broadband access.

T-REGS Notes: This is an implicit reference to the IEEE 802.16e (mobile WiMAX) and IEEE 802.20 (mobile broadband wireless access) standardisation processes. Ofcom’s report, section 4.1.1, expresses the view that nomadic or mobile applications are a necessary condition for WiMAX’s ability to succeed in Switzerland, given the advanced development of wireline broadband access. In section 5.1, Ofcom also suggests a modification of the national frequency attribution plan to authorise mobile applications in the 3,5 GHz band.

Further key questions put up for consultation address the following issues:

• Type of customers expected to be served (residential, SME, large business)

• Competition with or complement of other access technologies/networks

• Given that some 5 GHz frequencies are already available on an unlicensed basis (for low power applications) is it necessary at all to open up new frequencies on a licensed basis?

T-REGS Note: Ofcom’s report concludes that licensed frequencies are needed to ensure quality of service.

Frequencies in the 3400-3600 MHz band were already assigned in the year 2000 (by means of an auction, which raised +/- € 375 million). However, of the 9 operators that secured frequency assignments at that time, all but one operator failed, and most other operators returned their frequencies to the regulator. This means that frequencies are available, but allowing new operators in this band will raise some residual issues, including co-existence problems and potential re-banding requirements for the existing operator.

The following concession options are put forward:

• Grant 4 new concessions: 4 x 3.5 MHz duplex

• Grant 3 new concessions: 2 concessions with 6 x 3.5 MHz duplex and 1 concession with 4 x 3.5 MHz duplex

• Grant 2 new concessions: 8 x 3.5 MHz duplex

• An invitation to put forward further options

Ofcom also asks whether all or part of the concessions should be nation-wide, regional (single region or multi-regional) or limited to small enclosed areas, and whether geographical coverage, and other obligations (quality, open network access, etc.) should be imposed.

Finally, Ofcom consults on whether certain market participants should be excluded from participating in the frequency attribution process, and about the type of process. The following options are under consideration:

• Straight auction

• Auction with pre-selection criteria

• Comparative assessment (beauty contest)

Interested parties are invited to respond to Ofcom’s questionnaire by 30 April 2005. Ofcom will subsequently forward its recommendations to the ComCom, and a ComCom decision on the process for frequency attributions is expected in July or August 2005, with the actual attribution procedure to be initiated in the second half of 2005.

The Ofcom questionnaire (in French) can be accessed by clicking here.

The full text of Ofcom’s report (in French) can be accessed by clicking here.

For a detailed discussion, including the options that are already open today in Switzerland, please contact Yves Blondeel.

Note: The Luxembourg regulatory authority ILR also issued a questionnaire on WiMAX (on 14 March 2005). This consultation essentially asks (potential) operators to indicate their intentions and plans, which is remarkable given that a first-come-first-served system for fixed wireless access frequencies exists in Luxembourg. The ILR document (in English) can be accessed by clicking here.