16/03/2010

2.6GHz spectrum Auction on again?

ZDnet has reported that the Government has sent proposals for 800MHz, 2.6GHz and 2G/3G bands to Ofcom, which could mean Ofcom holding an auction for the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands later this year.

There has been controversy with various particulars of these spectrum auction with initially T-Mobile taking Ofcom to court saying the 2.6GHz band (which was reserved as an IMT-2000 i.e. 3G band in case the new 3G entrant failed) could not be allocated until 2G refarming had been sorted out. Currently the 2G bands are exclusively reserved for 2G use, naturally the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) want to re-use 2G bands for 3G services. However refarming was fraught with further complications as Vodafone and O2 have 900MHz spectrum while T-Mobile and Orange have 1800MHz (1.8GHz) and 900MHz propagates better than 1.8GHz.

Things were further muddied when T-Mobile and Orange announced their merger (which has since been approved) as the combined company would have more than the maximum allowable spectrum.

Things have also simplified as the maximum spectrum a MNO can have has been increased from 2 x 60MHz to 2 x 90MHz, 2G spectrum will be allowed to be used for 3/4G services and licenses will become indefinite and tradable (the 2G licenses are currently set at 15 years). Also the 800MHz license will be awarded to 2 licensees, but they will have to give guarantees of 99% population coverage which should stimulate rural broadband.

Though 800MHz is optimal spectrum (it has extremely good propagation characteristics (and penetrates building well), BT are still thought to have an extreme interest in the 2.6GHz spectrum as this will allow them to offer WiMAX (or other wireless broadband) in rural areas and 3G services in urban locations.

Though the landscape is looking more positive, there may still be legal action from the MNOs as has occurred in other countries.
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