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Ofcom spectrum-flog closer after court decision

Sucks to be 02 (and T-Mobile)

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Ofcom's continuing battle to sell off the 2.6GHz frequency has taken a step forward, with T-Mobile and O2 losing their appeal in relation to the question of jurisdiction and allowing progress of the High Court case to proceed.

This decision comes from the Court of Appeal, and rules that the High Court, and not the Competition Appeals Tribunal, has jurisdiction on the case - which means all parties can set off for the High Court early in the new year. If Ofcom wins that case then the spectrum should go under the hammer around March 2009.

The two operators have been arguing that it is unfair to sell off more spectrum while still deciding on the re-farming of 900MHz - they don't want to bid huge sums of money for higher spectrum only to find out next year that they can deploy 3G, and 4G, in the 900MHz space they already own.

The claim - that without knowing the plans for 900Mhz it's impossible to value the other frequencies - is sort of fair enough. But there is a happy side effect that no one can launch WiMAX or similar while the case persists - a situation that suits T-Mobile and O2 very well. Both companies are committed to LTE (Long Term Evolution) which is still under development, though the standard should be finished any day now.

The arguments aren't as important as they were: it's hard to imagine a new challenger finding backers for a national network to rival the cellular operators. The buying of 2.6GHz is much more likely to offer fixed-wireless broadband in towns and cities, at least until the economic situation improves. ®

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