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UK Government to Cap Mobile Broadband Spectrum Ownership

Posted: 13th May, 2009 By: MarkJ
The Independent Spectrum Broker (ISB), which was appointed by the government to find a solution for sharing mobile spectrum between the five main UK operators, has concluded that creating universal access to Mobile Broadband services (preferably offering speeds of at least 2Mbps) demands that a spectrum cap be imposed.

This means that any mobile operator seeking to buy new spectrum for future Mobile Broadband services would then be required to sell some of its existing band. The idea being that this enforced approach would help to foster market fairness and stop operators’ squabbling over who owns what.

Some of O2 and Vodafone's older 2G (900MHz and 1800MHz) spectrum could be sold off to Orange , T-Mobile and or Three (3) . The 900MHz spectrum in particular could then be partially converted from 2G to 3G, which is used in the delivery of HSPA Mobile Broadband services; improving coverage to rural areas.

The effect of these proposals should be to allow operators to either build LTE-suitable spectrum holdings (or if they prefer, to focus on developing existing 3G HSPA services) and to take on coverage obligations; and to do both of these in a way that encourages competition. The effects on existing operators would be as follows:
• Vodafone and O2 each already have access to 2 x 17.2MHz of sub-1GHz spectrum at 900MHz. They would be able to obtain 800MHz only if they were to give up an equal amount of 900MHz within a specified period. However, they would face few restrictions on bidding for 2.6GHz.

• Orange and T-Mobile each already have access to 2 x 30MHz of contiguous high-frequency spectrum at 1800MHz. They would be able to bid freely for 800MHz (or any 900MHz that Vodafone or O2 choose to give up). However, if they were successful in gaining 2 x 10MHz
of low frequency spectrum, they would only be able to bid for an additional 2 x 10MHz of 2.6GHz, so as to remain within the spectrum cap. If they wanted access to a greater amount of 2.6GHz, they would have to relinquish 1800MHz or 2.1GHz.

• Three (3) and any potential new entrants would be able to bid freely for 800MHz (or any 900MHz that Vodafone or O2 choose to give up) and 2.6GHz (or any 1800MHz that the 2G operators choose to give up) up to the maximum allowable per operator determined in the auction.
As mentioned above, the exact form of the spectrum caps applied to the combined 2.6GHz and 800MHz auctions may merit additional consideration.

To help remind readers, as this can get quite technical, presently 900MHz and 1800MHz is for 2G (mostly voice and GPRS) mobile services, 2.1GHz is currently used for 3G (3rd Generation) Mobile Broadband services and 2.6GHz could in the future be used for WiMAX based broadband wireless technology.

Elsewhere there's also the 800MHz Digital Dividend, which is being freed up as part of Ofcom's spectrum modernisation program that has replaced old analogue frequency with new digital (Freeview TV etc.) services. This could also be used for Mobile Broadband.

The Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting, Stephen Carter said: "The Independent Spectrum Broker has concluded that there is a need to find a new comprehensive approach to enable the roll-out of Next Generation Mobile Services, which offer enormous benefits for the UK economy. This report addresses complex and challenging issues and demands careful consideration and we will be setting out our response in the final Digital Britain report next month."

The full report can be downloaded HERE (.PDF).
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