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Ofcom helps inflate the WiMAX hype bubble

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Ofcom, the UK's the broadcast regulator, has tagged WiMAX mobile wireless as a likely source of revenue for the public purse.

It has announced "the UK's largest single release of radio spectrum, which could be used for a range of new services such as mobile broadband and advanced wireless services".

The spectrum auction is rather like an auction for a building site in the middle of London's financial "City" district when a small family business goes under. Real estate this valuable doesn't often hit the market.

"Ofcom is consulting on proposals to package and auction the spectrum to offer maximum flexibility," says today's announcement. Flexibility in the way that the bands could be used means no more than "we expect fierce bidding and high prices, and we're not going to impose requirements on the bidders".

But it's no secret that WiMAX operators are expected to pounce. "Ofcom's research into the bands has identified a number of potential uses of the spectrum," the regulator announced. They include:

  • mobile broadband wireless services, offering high-speed, high-capacity mobile data connections using technologies such as WiMAX;
  • mobile multimedia services, such as mobile television;
  • advanced mobile services using technologies such as UMTS and its evolutions; and
  • mobile broadcast, such as wireless cameras for outside broadcasts and temporary or portable video links.

The potential uses - ranging from broadband to mobile television -"reflect increasing convergence in communications services".

Most of the WiMAX cheerleading in the last four years has come from Intel, which sees amazing potential in the technology - a potential which many observers are sceptical about, but which has generated a profitable industry of pre-WiMAX activity. And Intel has never hidden its plans for the 2.5 GHz band.

The consultation document seeks views on proposals to auction licences to use three spectrum bands: 2500-2690 MHz, 2010-2025 MHz and 2290-2300 MHz. "In total 215 MHz will be available," says Ofcom.

Some of this was originally earmarked to go to 3G mobile - if the mobile operators want it. The trouble is, after the absurd prices paid for the UK 3G spectrum in the last auction, and with several of the UK's mobile operators in real financial trouble, there's a real air of disillusion about follow-up technology.

So, if Ofcom wants a good price for "this scarce and valuable natural resource," as it calls it, it has to open the bidding up to alternatives.

There's more spectrum still to come. "The proposals are part of a wider Ofcom programme to release around 400 MHz of prime spectrum to the market over the next few years, creating major opportunities for extra innovation and competition in wireless services," says the regulator today.

The programme includes a dozen different bands including the spectrum freed up by digital television switchover, or Digital Dividend, in which Ofcom will publish proposals shortly.

Go here for the full consultation document.

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