In a decision of 7 April 2016, Portuguese telecoms regulator ANACOM rejected full-service telco Nos’s appeal against the watchdog’s previous decision of 10 March 2016, which effectively brought into force the full gamut of 4G LTE service coverage obligations for all holders of 800MHz mobile licences auctioned in December 2011. The regulator said in a statement on its website that it saw no reason to suspend its decision, and that to do so would be against the public interest.
In the March decision, ANCOM officially notified the 800MHz concession holders – MEO, Vodafone and Nos – that a period of restrictions on commercial mobile operations in the ‘digital dividend’ 4G frequency range had ended, thereby bringing into force the full network coverage stipulations under the licensing conditions. Consequently, within six months from the date of notification the operators must cover 50% of a specified list of underserved municipalities (finalised under a decision of 22 August 2013), and within one year they must cover 100% of the areas in question. Minimum reference mobile data speeds must also be met in the specified coverage areas (under terms finalised by a decision of 3 March 2016).
TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database says that Portugal completed its analogue-to-digital TV switchover in April 2012, allowing cellcos to utilise their newly-won 800MHz frequencies, whilst in September that year ANACOM specified 480 municipalities lacking mobile broadband connectivity, before subsequently assigning coverage obligations for these municipalities to the three licensees (160 areas each) the following year. However, certain restrictions on the 800MHz frequencies’ usage in border regions continued to apply, meaning that the full coverage obligation for the underserved list of municipalities was not enforced until last month’s notification (as per the regulation of October 2011 referenced by ANACOM in its website announcement). Details contained in an annexe to the regulation indicate that restrictions on usage in border areas in 2012-2015 were designed to prevent interference to broadcasting stations in Spain and Morocco under the framework of previous International Telecommunication Union (ITU) agreements, imposing conditions including maximum permissible base station field strength at the border.
Furthermore, ANACOM confirmed that a 50% discount on annual 800MHz spectrum fees – which had been granted for all three licensees – has now been retracted, due to the lifting of all restrictions on the licensed frequencies’ usage.