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Government Moves to End Mobile Broadband Spectrum Dispute

Posted: 11th Feb, 2009 By: MarkJ
The government’s communications minister, Lord Carter, has summoned all of the UK's major mobile phone operators to a key meeting tomorrow, which could decide the fate of Carter's plans for universal (USO) 2Mbps broadband coverage. Ofcom's chief executive, Ed Richards, will also be in attendance.

The problem rests with a dispute over plans to open up the older 900MHz (2G) spectrum held by O2 and Vodafone for use by modern Mobile Broadband (3G, HSPA) services. Rivals T-Mobile, Three (3) and Orange would then be able to buy into the new spectrum and use it to extend their 3G coverage.

Unfortunately neither O2 nor Vodafone have been too pleased with the idea of being forced to give up their precious spectrum without compensation, which is understandable. Instead The Times hints that Carter will formally propose previously rumoured plans for a spectrum swap.

The swap would essentially mean Orange and T-Mobile exchanging/selling some or their entire 1800MHz spectrum, which would in turn allow O2 and Vodafone to sell some of their 900MHz band. Typically 1800MHz is good for improving urban coverage with denser populations and higher usage.

One of Ofcom's former officials, Kip Meek, has been given the unenviable task of trying to build an agreement between the operators before April and Carter's final Digital Britain 2009 report. The government is certainly serious about it and has threatened an "imposed solution" unless the matter is resolved.

It’s easy to see why this is such an important matter because basic 2G (voice) mobile phone services can already reach some of the remotest parts of our country. Changing this to allow for delivery of 3G services over the same band could conceivable bring faster and more affordable Mobile Broadband services within reach of those unable to get a good land-line broadband connection.

Mind you, there’s a pretty big question mark over whether mobile operators could actually deliver a stable 2Mbps link in such areas, which is just as much a question of capacity as it is of coverage. Mobile Broadband is only being offered so cheaply because they have nothing better to do with the extra capacity, yet under the hood it’s still very expensive.
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