BT spurns wireless broadband auction

Is the 3.4GHz auction heading for disaster, as another big-name telco refuses to join in?

BT has joined the ranks of major UK telecoms firms who plan to ignore the upcoming 3.4GHz wireless broadband auction, giving another blow to the government's aim of seeing this frequency used for the rollout of high-speed Internet services across the whole of Britain.

The telco has confirmed that it is much more interested in the 2GHz part of the radiocommunications spectrum, as reported by ZDNet UK earlier this year.

BT also believes that it isn't sensible to offer 15 regional wireless broadband licences, and would rather have the chance to bid for a national wireless broadband licence. This is currently being examined by the government, and it is understood that BT has been pushing very hard over this issue.

In an interview with Computing this week, Pierre Danon -- chief executive of BT Retail -- has described the decision to split the UK into 15 regional licences as "stupid", backing up comments made privately by BT officials over recent weeks.

Danon also ruled out the prospect of BT bidding in the auction, which will take place in May.

According to BT, because the licences will not include rollout obligations, they will allow successful bidders -- assuming there are some -- to cherry-pick a few urban areas and not offer broadband to more under-populated regions.

"These licences might encourage more broadband competition in urban areas [where many people can already get high-speed Internet] but they won't extend broadband availability in rural areas," a BT spokesman said.

"With Ofcom due to take over from the existing regulators later this year, we're hoping for a much better approach to this issue going forward," the spokesman added.

The Welsh Assembly is also furious with the way that the Radiocommunications Agency split Britain into seven regional and seven metropolitan licences plus one for Northern Ireland, as this distribution bundled parts of Wales in with areas of England. However, despite protests, the licence areas will not be redrawn.

In withdrawing from the 3.4GHz arena, BT joins NTL and Telewest -- who are also not expected to bid.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, though, the 3.4GHz auction will still be successful.

"A number of companies have expressed interest in broadband wireless licences at 3.4 GHz," said a DTI spokesman. "The licence regions make it possible for companies interested in delivering broadband services on a regional basis to enter the market as well as those with national interests, as a result we expect to see greater and more extensive competition in the UK broadband market."

The government also offered some hope to companies, such as BT, who would like to own one national wireless broadband licence.

"We will consult shortly about offering additional spectrum for wireless broadband at 3.6 GHz and will consider a number of licensing options including a national licence for the UK," explained the DTI spokesman.

Discover the latest developments in Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS and other cutting-edge wireless technologies at ZDNet UK's Wireless News Section.

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