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UK military faces spectrum sell off

Forces rely on air power to pay the bills

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The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) may sell off some of its reserved radio spectrum, potentially for large sums. Guidelines for sale of military frequencies are being drawn up by the communications regulator, Ofcom.

“Public bodies and the MoD in particular hold some of the most valuable and sought-after radio spectrum," said Ofcom chief Ed Richards earlier today.

"By working with these organisations we are enabling them to trade and release this spectrum which will create new opportunities for the development of wireless services for the whole country."

The idea behind allowing public bodies to trade in spectrum is that market conditions will ensure the most economically efficient use of the available capability, so benefiting the nation as a whole.

According to the regulator, public-sector organisations hold around half the spectrum in the desirable sub-15GHz range, with the MoD accounting for three-quarters of this (or about a third overall). Ofcom indicated that the government bands could be worth anywhere from £3bn to £20bn+, suggesting that the MoD is sitting on up to £15bn-worth of air.

The MoD is said to be "committed to sharing", and will consult on proposals in May. With the UK defence budget currently under severe pressure, it's certainly believable that the military brass may be eager to make sales - even if they don't get to keep the money. Under Treasury accounting rules introduced in recent years, holding onto the spectrum could cause serious financial difficulties if the frequencies stay on the MoD balance sheet as capital assets.®

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