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Renewal of GSM Licences in Switzerland

Switzerland's Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) has renewed the existing mobile licences for the GSM spectrum held by Orange, Sunrise and Swisscom until the end of 2013. The licences were extended on the technology-neutral basis, which will allow all three mobile operators to use the 900 MHz spectrum for the UMTS services. To ensure that Orange, Sunrise and Swisscom have sufficient spectrum in the 900 MHz band, ComCom has ordered Sunrise and Swisscom to give additional 900 MHz frequencies to Orange in exchange for 1800 MHz frequency range.

The Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) has renewed the GSM mobile telephony licences of Orange, Sunrise and Swisscom until the end of 2013. Thanks to a minor reallocation of frequencies, ComCom is now enabling all three licensees to use the 900 MHz frequency range, which has benefits in terms of transmission technology, also for UMTS applications.

The GSM licences, which were provisionally extended in April 2008, have now been renewed by ComCom up to the end of 2013. This means that all GSM licences will expire at the same time (Swisscom, Sunrise, Orange and In&Phone). This gives ComCom an opportunity to implement a comprehensive reallocation of all the mobile telephony frequencies which are free today or which will become free in 2013 or 2016. The Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM) has commenced the preparatory work on licensing and to this end is currently carrying out a public consultation (cf. www.comcom.admin.ch/latest_news/consultations). 

The licences which have now been renewed for four and a half year feature two major innovations: 

1) Technology-neutral allocation of frequencies

ComCom is allocating the frequencies which have to date been reserved exclusively for GSM on a technology-neutral basis, i.e. the licensees will in future also be allowed to operate UMTS systems in the allocated GSM spectrum. In this way, ComCom is promoting the switch to advanced mobile telephony technologies and countering possible bottlenecks in the event of large increases in mobile data traffic. 

2) Minor reallocation of frequencies

In order to increase competition, it is additionally important from ComCom's viewpoint that all three licensees have an opportunity to also deploy UMTS in the 900 MHz frequency range, which is interesting in terms of frequency technology. A minor reallocation of frequencies is necessary to achieve this: Orange, which owned too few 900 MHz frequencies for this purpose, is receiving additional 900 MHz frequencies from Sunrise and Swisscom. This is offset in the 1800 MHz frequency range, where Orange must give up frequencies to Sunrise and Swisscom. The 900 MHz frequencies are interesting to operators because they allow larger radio cells and better coverage inside buildings.  

The issue of the utilisation of the 900 MHz frequencies for UMTS is a topical subject throughout Europe: tests of "UMTS900" have taken place in many countries and the EU Commission is also promoting the use of the 900 MHz frequencies with UMTS systems. In December 2006, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) established the necessary general conditions for operation of UMTS systems in the GSM frequency spectrum.

Background: GSM licences awarded to date
In 1998, ComCom awarded two GSM licences for a ten-year term within the framework of a "beauty contest" (to Orange and Diax/Sunrise). Another licence with the same term had already been granted to Swisscom under the Telecommunications Act. Since the renewal of licences decided upon in 2007 led to unexpected delays, ComCom provisionally extended the licences which expired at the end of May 2008.
In December 2003, ComCom had awarded a GSM licence to Tele2 and In&Phone respectively. The Tele2 licence was surrendered when the company was taken over by Sunrise in autumn 2008; In&Phone's licence expires at the end of 2013.