3.4GHz broadband ready for action

Nine months after the government's auction of 3.4GHz licences, trial services are about to launch in an undisclosed part of Britain

Broadband wireless services running in the 3.4GHz band of the radio spectrum will finally be available to businesses and consumers in one part of Britain within a few months.

UK Broadband, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Pacific Century Cyberworks (PCCW), is planning a "soft launch" of a high-speed wireless service in the second quarter of this year. The location for this trial has not yet been announced.

This service will be called Netvigator, which is also the brand name of PCCW's fixed line broadband service in Hong-Kong.

Few precise details of UK Broadband's plans are available at this stage. The company's ultimate aim is to offer high-speed wireless connectivity across Britain, but a spokesman declined to say when a nationwide launch might take place or to disclose any further details of the service.

UK Broadband did announce on Wednesday the appointment of Keith Hawkins as its senior vice president of sales and marketing. Hawkins is a veteran of the UK telecoms market. He has spent three years working at Freeserve, as managing director for marketing and later managing director for consumer services. He also worked as AOL's UK group marketing director for two years.

"I'm pleased to be joining this great team at a very exciting time," said Hawkins in a statement. "We're hitting the ground running with our soft launch coming up soon. I'm convinced that our high speed, simple-to-use Netvigator service will revolutionise consumers' attitudes towards broadband and increase uptake in the UK."

Despite announcing Hawkins' appointment, UK Broadband isn't keen on revealing who else it employs. PCCW has been consistently reluctant to talk about its plans since its interest in the 3.4GHz spectrum first emerged last year. This policy that hasn't endeared itself to some in Britain's broadband scene and has led to concern that the company might use its bandwidth to carry backhaul traffic for 3G operators rather than support broadband services for end users.

PCCW initially won 13 of the 15 licences on offer in the auction of summer 2003. Its failure to pick up all 15 licences was a surprise, with insiders claiming that errors made by the company during the bidding process prevented it from getting two of the 15 on offer.

It appears that PCCW has subsequently picked up both the other two licences. In September 2003 it bought Red Spectrum, a firm which won the Northern Metropolitan licence.

The fifteenth licence, covering rural southern England, was won by a company called Public Hub. It no longer appears so have a Web presence, suggesting that PCCW made Public Hub an offer it couldn't refuse. Licence holders aren't allowed to trade their licences, but there was nothing in the rules of the auction to prevent a company from getting a licence by buying the licence holder.