Date set for new wireless broadband auction

The government is to auction the 3.4GHz part of the spectrum, but some telcos believe it is chasing the wrong frequency

Companies will soon be able to bid for licences allowing them to provide wireless broadband to consumers and businesses using the 3.4GHz spectrum.

The UK government confirmed on Friday that it will hold an auction of 3.4GHz licences in 15 regions -- as previously reported back in April 2002 -- in May this year. These licences will let companies offer fixed wireless access services, potentially at speeds similar to ADSL.

Each licence will cover one region of the UK, and successful bidders will not be forced to roll out services within a certain timeframe.

They also won't have to offer wireless broadband, and could instead use the bandwidth for other purposes. The government, though, is hopeful that this auction is a way of making high-speed data connections to rural areas, and other places where ADSL and cable broadband is not available.

Interested parties can apply for a licence from March. The Radiocommunications Agency, which will handle the auction, has not yet revealed whether there will be a reserve price set for the licences.

Wireless is generally seen as the key to making Broadband Britain a reality, and many companies are keen to get involved in wireless broadband.

Some in the industry, though, believe that the government is making the wrong bandwidth available.

A number of companies are understood to be pushing the government to make the 2GHz spectrum available for high-speed wireless services.

These firms -- including, it is understood, BT -- believe that rural wireless broadband will only be commercially viable if 2GHz is used, rather than a higher frequency part of the spectrum.

"Certain companies have been pushing the government very hard over 2GHz for some time," a source close to the issue told ZDNet UK.

However, it appears that these discussions, which are still ongoing, are unlikely to result in 2GHz being thrown open to wireless broadband providers in the near future. The Radiocommunications Agency held a consultation into 2GHz last year. Its proposals included the possibility of awarding fixed wireless licences covering the metropolitan areas of Scotland and Wales, using the 2GHz band.

A decision on the future of 2GHz has still not been taken and it is understood that none is imminent.

One reason for the government's reluctance to make 2GHz available for wireless broadband could be that it is currently used by Britain's security services, who are unwilling to give it up.

See the Broadband News Section for the latest on cable modems, ADSL, satellite and other high-speed access technologies, including a comprehensive guide to the best deals out there.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.