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Ofcom pledges spectrum sell-off early next year

Auction is on while O2 digs heels in

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Ofcom has issued another update on progress towards flogging off spectrum in the 2GHz band, this time stating that all the legal action should be finished off by February next year, allowing the regulator to put up the For Sale signs in March.

The spectrum concerned comes in three chunks, and mobile operators T-Mobile and O2 are working on delaying action, arguing that the auction shouldn't take place until a decision on 900MHz has been made, coincidentally preventing anyone from buying up the frequencies and deploying WiMAX or similar.

Ofcom's opinion has always been that the spectrum should be sold off as quickly as possible, and on a technology-neutral basis, so companies can start deploying wireless services to compete with the incumbents. Those incumbents, however, might bid for some spectrum themselves, but argue they can't decide until they know what's going on with 900MHz - which is currently limited by licence to GSM 2G technologies. That licence could be updated to allow 3 or 4G technologies.

The case has been ongoing for a while now: most recently there's an appeal from T-Mobile/O2 against the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) decision that they don't have the jurisdiction to prevent the auction taking place: that's scheduled for November 20th. Once that's decided the case can actually proceed, which is likely going to be February next year.

All of which puts the auction back to March 2009, at best, which works nicely for incumbents who are intending to deploy GSM LTE (Long Term Evolution) 4G technology - that standard is still being thrashed out and won't be completed until the end of 2008 at best. ®

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