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Hurrah for Ofcom's spectrum plans

Spectrum Framework Review gets gold star

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We do confess to being fans of the new UK regulator Ofcom, having been critical of the way the UK allocated Spectrum in the past, and it has now finalized its Spectrum Framework Review, with the majority of the changes being that UK license holders can trade spectrum and that licensees can decide what services to offer with a particular piece of spectrum rather than Ofcom deciding ahead of time.

The regulator will also free up a lot more spectrum to make unlicensed, and the exceptions to all these changes will be only where signals cross international boundaries there international mobility is critical, for example in aviation, and where the international community has agreed to harmonize spectrum use through multinational accords.

This idea of being relaxed about spectrum usage, but strict on incumbents in opening up networks to the competition is a relatively new formula for the UK and the regulatory framework looks increasingly like Germany in terms of spectrum trading and offering more unlicensed frequencies, and more like France when it comes to forcing incumbents to open their networks.

The only places where the International Telecommunications Union has expectations of international co-ordination is really on cellular spectrum, on TV broadcasting spectrum and on the fact that big parts of the 5 GHz spectrum should be unlicensed.

This philosophy would seem to suggest that spectrum allocated in future, that fits into WiMAX profiles, would be given a free remit to be used for fixed as well as mobile applications, and yet it is hard to believe that this philosophy will really be adhered to, given the political clout of cellular carriers.

And also just because a piece of spectrum is either unlicensed in the UK, or is used for a particular application in the UK, it doesn’t mean that equipment makers and operators can gain anything from that without the same opportunities arising in the rest of Europe at least. Without commonality of frequency, cheap manufacture through large volumes won’t happen.

It is obvious that Ofcom would like to set a trend and see the remainder of Europe follow its lead, but given the various political leanings of other European countries, this seems unlikely and the best it can hope for is a hotbed of competing opportunities in the UK and a lot less paperwork.

In the meantime the Telecommunications Adjudicator said in its latest update on unbundling broadband lines that the number of unbundled lines is approximately 70,000, the current run rate of lines provisioned is in excess of 3000 per week, with the order pipeline increasing fast. The Adjudicator was put in place with special powers to apply pressure to incumbent operator BT to streamline processes, in order to hit agreed targets for connection, the provision of backhaul and the maintenance and repair of unbundled broadband lines and says that BT is on track for the UK to have 1.5 million unbundled broadband lines by the end of 2006.

Copyright © 2005, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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