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Qualcomm splurges on UK spectrum

Just bag up the whole lot for me, please

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US technology company Qualcomm has scooped all 17 chunks of UK-L-Band spectrum, auctioned over the last week, for a total of £8,334,000 - so you can expect MediaFLO announcements from UK operators any day now.

The auction and started out with nine bidders competing for various combinations of the single 12.5MHz chunk and 16 lots of 1.7MHz each. The bidding closed on Wednesday, but the results finally released this morning reveal that Qualcomm has snaffled the lot.

Other bidders included private radio networks and MVNOs, most of whom dropped out after a few rounds of bidding. O2 pulled out before the auction started (just in time to get their deposit back), and only Vectone and Worldspace stayed the duration against Qualcomm.

We still don't know what Vectone had in mind to do with the L-Band, but WorldSpace will be very disappointed to have lost the larger chunk - it holds licences for its use in Switzerland, Germany and Italy, and was convinced no one else would be interested. That frequency is reserved in parts of Europe for satellite radio, but not in the UK, so anyone who uses it will have to avoid interference from WorldSpace's Europe-wide transmissions.

Officially Qualcomm isn't saying what it's planning to use the spectrum for, apparently it is still examining options and will respond to market demand. But everything we hear points towards MediaFLO, the mobile TV broadcast system in which Qualcomm has considerable interest. While the EU officially endorses DVB-H (the mobile TV broadcast system in which Nokia has considerable interest), and MBMS (as part of the GSM standard), Qualcomm has made it clear it sees space for MediaFLO in Europe - and now it has the spectrum to make that happen.

In the USA Qualcomm has successfully sold MediaFLO to network operators, bundled with the spectrum they need to use it and the infrastructure to run it. The same approach in the UK will be warmly received by operators wary of rolling out their own infrastructure or fiddling around with 3G implementations. Faced with paying to build a DVB-H network, or signing a contract with Qualcomm, few operators will choose the former.

EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has made clear that if mobile TV deployments don't conform to the recommended standard, DVB-H, she'll legislate to make it happen. Ofcom, the UK's regulator, will fight Qualcomm's corner - they want all spectrum licensing to be technology neutral, so if the EU decides to enforce the standard they'll have a fight on their hands, and something to keep Qualcomm's lawyers busy for a decade or two. ®

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