Government urged to act on wireless broadband

Building Broadband Britain: The broadband industry says it is desperate for 'appropriate' spectrum to be made available for high-speed wireless Internet services. It could be the key to getting the UK connected

Wireless is the key to giving everyone in Britain access to an affordable high-speed Internet service, according to the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG). It is calling on the UK government to make wireless broadband a top priority when deciding how to allocate radio spectrum.

In its second annual report into Broadband Britain, the BSG has warned that the deployment of wireless broadband services in the UK is being hampered because operators are currently barred from using certain radio frequencies that are technically suitable for low-cost high-speed services.

The BSG wants the government to address this problem over the next year by identifying parts of the radiocommunications spectrum that could be used for commercially viable wireless broadband services, and making them available to operators.

"The government should prioritise the deployment of broadband services when deciding policy on spectrum allocations in the bands appropriate for the service intended," the report recommended. It was published last week to coincide with the Building Broadband Britain event last week in London.

Speaking to ZDNet UK News last week, Antony Walker -- chief executive of the BSG -- declined to name any particular frequencies that he thought should be made available for wireless broadband. Walker warned, though, that opportunities were being missed because of the current situation.

"There are lots of companies with relevant experience who want to provide wireless broadband, but at the moment it's not possible because appropriate spectrum isn't available," Walker explained.

Currently, around one-third of households can't access either BT's ADSL network or the cable networks of NTL and Telewest -- and it is likely that around 10 percent will never be offered affordable wired broadband. Wireless is widely seen as one solution to this problem.

The government has attempted to make spectrum available for wireless broadband in the past, but with limited success. It identified the 28GHz band as suitable for broadband fixed wireless services, but after two failed auctions it has only managed to distribute 16 of the 42 licences available.

In contrast, its decision to make 2.4GHz a non-licensed band appears to be paying off, with four companies already offering commercial Wi-Fi hot spot services.

Speaking at the Building Broadband Britain conference last week, Claire Durkin, director of communication networks, broadband and Internet policy at the Department of Trade and Industry, said she was "acutely aware" of the problems facing potential wireless broadband operators.

Durkin indicated that the government is close to announcing its plans for two more bands of the spectrum -- 3.4GHz and 5GHz. Like 2.4GHz, 5GHz -- where 802.11a operates -- is likely to be declared an unlicensed band, while 3.4GHz will be licensed.

As they are lower-frequency than the 28GHz band, the equipment needed to operate wireless broadband at 3.4GHz and 5GHz should be cheaper, making commercial broadband services at these frequencies more economically viable.

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