Ofcom may free up more room for mobile broadband

The telecoms regulator is consulting on proposals to free up a chunk of spectrum to give a further boost to mobile-broadband services in the UK
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom is consulting on proposals to free up a chunk of spectrum to give a further boost to mobile-broadband services in the UK.

The consultation follows Lord Carter's pledge to offer universal broadband access of up to 2Mbps by 2012 via fixed and wireless networks in the interim Digital Britain report.

The report sets out government plans for a Wireless Spectrum Modernisation Programme to boost available spectrum to ensure universal broadband access provision.

The existing licensees of the spectrum in question, the 900MHz band, are O2 and Vodafone, who would each be required to release 2 x 5MHz. The licence for this spectrum is restricted to 2G services , but the spectrum could be used for a much greater range of 3G services, hence the desire to unchain a portion of it. The 900MHz spectrum is also attractive because it is better at providing high-speed services in buildings and rural areas than the spectrum used by other operators.

Subject to the consultation, Ofcom said it would aim to auction the released spectrum in summer 2010. The licences would be tradable to ensure the most efficient use, it added.

However, O2 and Vodafone are pinning their hopes on discussions between all the UK operators and Kip Meek, the government appointed independent spectrum broker, to come up with an alternative spectrum plan to service Lord Carter's needs. A deadline of the end of April has been set for the operators to come to an agreement.

Carter's interim Digital Britain report states: "The government believes that an industry-agreed set of radio spectrum trades could represent a better and quicker solution than an imposed realignment."

The first meeting between Meek and the operators took place last Thursday and a Vodafone spokesman told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com, that the discussion was "all very constructive". He added: "There is an appetite on all sides to find an agreement."

O2 said in a statement: "We agree with the government that it is in the best interests of everyone to reach an industry-agreed solution — provided it doesn't affect our customers or commercial interests — so we will be focusing our attention on the discussions with Kip Meek rather than the Ofcom consultation."

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