Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Proposal for way forward on mobile spectrum

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Kip Meek, the Independent Spectrum Broker charged by the government in February with finding a solution to a series of complicated disputes between the mobile operators on the allocation of spectrum which had led to an impasse, has, against the backdrop of the Digital Britain interim report pointing to the role of mobile broadband in delivering the proposal for a 2Mbps universal broadband commitment, today produced his final report.

There are four blocks of spectrum available to wireless operators:

– spectrum at 900Mhz and 1800Mhz awarded to so-called 2G (digital voice and text services) operators, at the lower frequency initially to O2 and Vodafone; at the higher to Orange and T-Mobile (and also a small additional amount to the original operators on the basis that lower frequencies  permit signals to cover longer distances and penetrate buildings better)

– spectrum at 2.1GHz awarded on the basis of auction to 3G (mobile video) operators, including Three

– a so-called 3G ‘expansion band’ at 2.6GHZ as yet unawarded. The higher frequences at 2.1GHz and 2.6GHz are more suited to providing capacity for a large number of users in urban environments

– the ‘digital dividend’ spectrum at 800MHz that will be freed for further use once TV analogue frequencies have been switched off. The low level of frequencies here make this block particularly valuable since it requires the building of fewer base stations.

Meek has suggested essentially combining these blocks together so as to allow operators’ requirements for spectrum to be addressed in an integrated way which, he believes, should generate the prize of allowing mobile broadband services to be delivered at speeds of 4 Mbps, in turn facilitating a quicker and smoother transition to next generation services than would otherwise have seemed possible. The main point of his package of proposals is essentially to place a cap on operators’ total spectrum holdings within the total amount that is available so as to allow each to consolidate their holdings, thus maximise the efficiency of what they hold, and to facilitate the trading between them of blocks that the cap means they can no longer hold.

The proposal will now be considered by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and may then appear in the final Digital Britain report due next month.

The proposal may well be a way forward out of the impasse for mobile operators and for public policy on universal broadband coverage, although it is unlikely to sit well with broadcasters, who had responded to the Digital Britain report with the view that these frequencies should be distributed to them for public service broadcasting purposes.

Furthermore, a speed of 4 Mbps, as welcome as this will be to consumers, will require significant levels of investment. Concerns already exist as to whether mobile companies will have the resources to invest at this level, not only in new spectrum but also in network infrastructure build, to provide this level of service let alone one that runs twice as fast.

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Written by Calvin

14/05/2009 at 3:44 pm

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