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New mobe operator slash Wi-Fi hotspotter launches in UK

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Just when you thought the UK mobile phone business was pretty much settled along comes UK01, claiming its place as the sixth mobile phone operator and brandishing its own GSM spectrum to prove it.

UK01 claims to be a real GSM operator, and has just signed a deal with Spectrum Interactive to put its GSM base stations into phone kiosks run by the Wi-Fi hotspot operator, establishing a few hundred locations from which UK01 customers will be able to make, and receive, calls.

Behind UK01 is a company called Mapesbury Communications Ltd, whose CEO Magnus Kelly said in a statement that "this agreement is an important milestone, as it accelerates our ability to launch the UK's 6th mobile phone network".

The spectrum used for UK01's network is around 1800MHz, so within the operating band of most mobile handsets, but the operator's licence is only for low-power deployments which will have very limited range - so customers won't be able to wander far from the kiosk bearing the UK01 service mark. They'll also have to manually select the UK01 network, as the company apparently has no roaming agreements with other operators to provide additional coverage.

The lack of roaming is unsurprising, as Mapesbury only paid around £77,000 for the limited-power licence. To get into the door of a real operator you'd need at least a billion quid's worth of spectrum.

UK01 is much more like a Wi-Fi hotspot operation, and the deal with Spectrum Interactive underlines that. Punters seeing the service mark might decide to switch to UK01 for a cheaper tariff, as long as they hang around nearby, though the company might like to remember Phone Point, Phone Zone and Rabbit as similar services that crashed and burned.

The spectrum was part of Ofcom's first spectrum auction, and the newly-formed regulator imagined it might be used for private networks or operator in-fill, both of which are being deployed by other licensees. The use of 1800MHz prevents 3G data services (3G is still corralled at 2.1GHz), so it's EDGE at best, though UK01 hasn't announced any kind of data service as yet.

We tried to speak to Mapesbury Communications to ask whether UK01 intends to expand its network, but we were told that the only chap who could help us was Mr Kelly, the CEO, and he's not around today. So we're left to speculate. ®

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