Following the publication of the Call for Applications leading to the grant of the rights of use of additional spectrum for wireless broadband, the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) has received by the application deadline a total of three submissions from the parties who had earlier on expressed their interest in acquiring spectrum in the 800 MHz band, 1800 MHz band and the 2.5 GHz bands respectively. The interested candidates are Vodafone Malta Ltd., Melita Ltd. and GO plc.
The additional spectrum for wireless broadband in the 800 MHz band, 1800 MHz band and the 2.5 GHz band respectively will complement the mobile service providers’ roll-out of their next generation mobile networks capable of supporting higher user demands while attaining mobile broadband speeds which are not possible with their current spectrum holdings. In addition to sustaining increases in demand and faster mobile broadband speeds, the allocation of additional spectrum will eventually lead to lower prices, greater innovation, new investment and better coverage.
Work on the 800 MHz spectrum started in earnest in 2012, after this spectrum was identified by the EU Commission for its importance in facilitating the deployment of 4G mobile networks and was harmonised across all EU member states. Upon the adoption of the EU Decision, Malta commenced discussions with its neighbouring countries to coordinate the use of an alternative TV channel essential for the continued reception of general interest programmes. Challenges in the international coordination process for an alternative broadcasting frequency, coupled with interference suffered from Italy, led Malta to request and be granted a derogation by the EU Commission. The 800 MHz band was only fully cleared for local use at the start of 2017 after extensive work carried out by the MCA.
The 800 MHz spectrum was set to make its foray after Melita expressed demand for this band in August 2016 with further interest being registered from GO and Vodafone with the intent to secure part of the 800 MHz spectrum. The assignment process for the 800 MHz band was however, terminated prematurely due to the developments in the local mobile market arising from a proposed merger between Vodafone and Melita. This led to the concurrent withdrawal of market interest from all applicants participating in the 800 MHz band assignment process. The current assignment process was eventually started in August 2017 following a request by GO.
As established in the MCA Decision MCA/D/17-2971 governing the assignment and management of the respective spectrum bands, the MCA shall now assess the eligibility of the submissions received prior to proceed for the Qualification Phase, which ensures the efficient and effective use of this spectrum. This process should be finalised by not later than June 2018.
During the same period the MCA will also be publishing the national roadmap for spectrum in the 700 MHz band, paving the way towards the availability of spectrum for 5G by 2021.