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Ofcom knocks back spectrum auction

T-Mobile and O2 still fighting their corner

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Ofcom has admitted it will not start the auction of three chunks of 2GHz spectrum in October as promised, pushing the date back as litigation from T-Mobile and O2 drags on.

The incumbent operators are not saying much in public, but the argument is over how Ofcom wants to sell three sections of spectrum around 2GHz (2010-2025MHz, 2290-2302MHz & 2500-2690MHz), before deciding what to do about refarming 900MHz. A decision on the latter will have a significant impact on the value of the frequencies on offer.

Right now the 900MHz band is only licensed for 2G GSM services, but everyone who owns a chunk of 900MHz has been pushing to use other technologies, such as 3G and LTE. The GSMA backs the campaign, claiming that an extra 300 million people could enjoy 3G connectivity if it were allowed onto 900MHz.

Ofcom is happy to allow that - probably - but won't make a formal decision on the matter until next year.

The operators want to know if they'll be allowed to deploy LTE, GSM's fourth generation technology of choice, at 900MHz before they decide if it is worth bidding for some 2GHz.

O2's position is that Ofcom should auction off the middle chunk of spectrum, 2290MHz to 2302MHz, but hang on to the rest until a decision is made on 900MHz, while T-Mobile wants to see the whole lot delayed until the operators know where they stand.

A true cynic might also note that T-Mobile's position prevents anyone deploying WiMAX, a technology that likes to paint itself as a competitor to LTE, while the final details of the LTE standard are thrashed out. T-Mobile is committed to LTE, so even if the spectrum were available tomorrow they wouldn't be able to roll out a network for a while yet, so any delay can only work in their favour.®

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