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Understanding Ofcom Spectrum Management

This article explains how Ofcom have managed spectrum in the UK market, and their immediate plans and principles for further use...

The original UK mobile phone operators (Vodafone and O2, formerly Cellnet), were given 2G spectrum when the UK mobile industry was founded in 1985. This spectrum runs over the 900MHz band. When One2One (now T-Mobile) and Orange were offered licenses in 1991 they were given spectrum in the higher 1800 band, with the existing two networks also given some capacity on this band. The four networks pay around 16m per year each for their 2G spectrum. The last time mobile phone spectrum became available, an auction was held. This occurred at the height of the dotcom boom in telecommunications, and the existing four networks and new entrant Three paid 22.5 billion for spectrum designated for 3G use..

All four 2G operators have demanded that the regulator remove restrictions on what services they can run over their 2G networks. Allowing 3G technology onto these lower bands would enable wireless broadband in more rural areas because on the lower ranges such as 900 MHz, signals can travel over much greater distances than on the 3G spectrum at 2100 MHz. Ofcom has recently deciding to reclaim around 30% of the 900MHz band granted to O2 and Vodafone, and to auction it to competing operators, so that access to spectrum is more competitive. Orange, T-Mobile and 3 will be able to bid for this spectrum, as well as any new entrants, but Vodafone and O2 will not.

Ofcom also proposes to remove technology-specific restrictions on the use of the 1800MHz band as soon as possible, and to make licenses tradable, giving the current holders the option to transfer rights to use the spectrum to another operator. These changes could take place in 2008. Similar changes could also be applied to the spectrum band currently used for 3G services at 2100MHz.

BT, Orange, T-mobile are among 10 companies to have been awarded licenses for the 10GHz to 40GHz higher frequency bands in a recent (4th) auction of spectrum. The spectrum has been awarded on a technology and service neutral basis.

Ofcom has also recently (February 2008) announced plans for its fifth radio spectrum auction, which will be held online and is expected to start in spring 2008. The 1452MHz to 1492MHz band L-band spectrum is suitable for multimedia services such as mobile television, satellite radio and broadband wireless access. The awards will be technology and service neutral, and will be tradable.

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