Wireless rural broadband gets green light

Summary:The 5.8GHz 'Band C' part of the spectrum is now open for business, complete with the promised 'light' licensing regime

The Office of Communications on Monday opened a key part of the radio spectrum that will help bring broadband to rural areas of Britain not served by ADSL broadband.

As expected, the 5.8GHz Band C will be regulated under a 'light touch' licensing regime, said Ofcom. This means that all service providers will have to register with Ofcom and pay a licensing fee of £1 a year for each terminal installed, with a minimum of £50 a year. Such costs are unlikely to have a significant effect on the price that customers pay for their wireless broadband connections -- which, according to Ofcom, usually deliver around 1MB per second. But BT, which is running four three-month trials of the technology, has warned that prices for wireless broadband access may be higher than for fixed-line broadband technologies such as ADSL.

BT’s trials cover Ballingry in Fife, Scotland, Pwllheli in Wales, Porthleven in Cornwall and Campsie in Northern Ireland.

If these trials are a success, then the service could be used to bring broadband to remote areas that ADSL and cable networks don't reach, as well as to those who live more than 6km from their local exchange. Wireless broadband services are expected to appear during 2004.

Opening up Band C has not been without difficulties. The band has long been used by the military, which was known to be unhappy about sharing the spectrum with civilian users. Ofcom agreed that any equipment used in the 5.8GHz band will use Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) technology to minimise interference, which means that a user's connection will automatically change to another channel if it detects military radar. It will also use transmit power control (TPC), which ensures that a network transmits at the lowest power level possible.

The MoD was also thought to be demanding exclusion zones around key radar sites, but an Ofcom spokesman said the only restrictions, other than that equipment uses DFS and service providers register and pay licence fees, will affect outside broadcasters, who often use Band C for transmitting footage from sporting events.

The Ofcom spokesman said the licensing process for Band C would be in place by the end of January "at the latest" but that interested service providers can register their interest with Ofcom now.

Topics: Networking

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