Cable firms snub wireless broadband auction

The government needs the 3.4GHz auction to be a success, but both NTL and Telewest look set to leave it alone

Neither of the UK's cable companies are likely to take any part in the government's forthcoming 3.4GHz wireless broadband auction.

The Radiocommunications Agency is due to make 15 regional licences available in May this year, as part of the government's drive to make wireless spectrum available to the telecoms industry.

Seven of the licences cover metropolitan areas -- including one for Greater London, one for cities in the Midlands such as Birmingham and Coventry, and one for northern conurbations including Manchester and Liverpool -- with seven more covering rural areas.

Following the failure of the 28GHz wireless broadband auction, the government is under some pressure to succeed with these 3.4GHz licences, but early indications are not too encouraging.

Telewest told ZDNet UK on Thursday that it will not be bidding for any of the 3.4GHz licences, even though it believes wireless has a big role to play in making high-speed Internet services available in rural areas.

"We've got enough on our plate at the moment," Tony Grace, managing director of Telewest Business, explained.

Grace added that this decision won't necessarily prevent Telewest from offering wireless broadband services in the future.

"I think you'll see a lot of partnerships formed, as companies work together and share the initial investment in these broadband technologies," Grace added.

It is also understood that NTL has no plans to bid for a 3.4GHz licence. NTL has shown considerable interest in wireless broadband, and is currently conducting a trial of a consumer broadband service in London.

Both NTL and Telewest have suffered badly during the ongoing slump in the technology and telecoms market. But, with prices for the 3.4GHz licences starting at just £300,000 for the three major metropolitan areas and £100,000 for the rest, it seems unlikely that they would be priced out if they believed there was a good business case.

The government, though, says is still confident that the auction will be a success.

"The Radiocommunications Agency has received a reasonable level of interest to date," said a DTI spokeswoman, who declined to speculate further about exactly how many companies had contacted the RA about the auction.

The government's decision to bundle areas of Wales in with parts of rural England has already caused anger within the principality, but Welsh e-minister Andrew Davies has now decided to accept the decision.


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