Monday, May 10, 2010

Digital Dividend - UK Lags On EU Demands For Open Spectrum | UK Lags On EU Demands For Open Spectrum

EU wants harmony, but the future of the UK's spectrum is still up in the air according to experts

The Commission has agreed on rules to free up of spectrum in the 800 Mhz band which should make it easier for European countries to coordinate their efforts and allow wireless broadband devices to operate across the region, according to a statement released this week..

Digital Divident waits for the election

“This Decision paves the way for implementation of innovative broadband technologies and for the fast growing demand for wireless services to be met,” said Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.” I encourage Member States to take the necessary steps to implement the Decision, so that European businesses and citizens can take full advantage of the benefits of the switchover to digital TV.”

The commission said it strongly supports the use of the 790-862 MHz band, used for TV in most countries, for wireless broadband and wants EU countries to act quickly. “Coordinated management of this spectrum could give an economic boost of up to €44 billion to the EU’s economy and help to achieve the EU 2020 Strategy target of high-speed broadband for all by the end of 2013 (with speeds gradually increasing up to 30 Mbts and above in 2020),” the commission states.

But while Europe is calling for coordination on the spectrum, the UK is still wrestling with how to go about the process of allocating its free spectrum. The UK’s telecoms regulator Ofcom has long had plans to hold an auction for two chunks of radio spectrum, some around 2.6GHz which was originally planned for use by 3G mobile services, and some around 800MHz. However, these auctions and other moves have run aground on political indecision, according to speakers at a public discussion run by Westminster Media eForum in January.

The indecision has resulted in the proposed auction of spectrum licenses being put off until next year, by which time a Conservative government may have abolished Ofcom, the UK regulator backing the process.

The Conservative Party has said that it will scrap the broadband tax that the Labour government hoped to use to pay for increasing broadband speeds. The Conservatives also threatened to abolish Ofcom, which would throw the whole auction process into question.

The new EC decision states that member states which decide to make the 800 MHz band available for services other than broadcasting should apply the same technical rules. Cooperation on the roll-out of wireless broadband services should help cut costs and increase coverage, the EC believes.

“Telecoms industry experts estimate that infrastructure to provide mobile broadband coverage using the 800 MHz band will be around 70 percent cheaper than through using the radio frequencies currently used by 3rd generation mobile technology (UMTS),” the EC states. “The lower costs involved in rolling out such networks will make these investments more attractive for operators, which should improve the geographic coverage of wireless broadband services.”

But experts in the UK have questioned who the allocation of spectrum will really benefit in the long run. “Operators want to hoard spectrum, in order to lower their costs, not to improve services,” warned Maurice Patrick, a telecoms analyst at Barclays Capital earlier this year.

The EC has released a Q&A document on the issue which can be found here.

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