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MoD ponders super spectrum sale

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The UK's Ministry of Defense has detailed the process by which it's planning to switch radio-spectrum usage from Crown Immunity to Recognised Spectrum Access, a precursor for sharing or trading radio spectrum.

The MoD is a huge user of radio spectrum; about 35 percent of the spectrum below 15GHz is allocated to it as the primary user. As a government body the MoD doesn't need a licence as such - it has Crown Immunity - but that makes selling or leasing the spectrum pretty much impossible, thus prompting the transition to Recognised Spectrum Access (RSA) which mutates into a licence when traded into the free market.

The new report (pdf) lays out in detail the schedule for transitioning of two chunks of spectrum, 406.1 - 430MHz and 3.4 - 3.6GHz, which should come under Ofcom-issued RSAs by September 2009, as well as how the Ministry intends to approach migrating the rest of its holding.

That will open the possibility of the MoD selling the spectrum, or leasing it, and keeping the money too. 400MHz should prove a popular band - close to the analogue TV frequencies it has good range and in-building penetration, so selling that off should pay for a few Eurofighters.

3.5GHz isn't quite so obviously useful, but microwave backhaul connections tend to hang around there, so there's still money to be made.

Not that the Ministry has detailed plans for a sell-off just yet. This is just the first step in that direction, and some are hoping that the MoD will be convinced to allow some "innovation licensing"as proposed by the regulator, Ofcom, last year. Such licences allow companies to try technologies before switching to a higher frequency before a commercial launch - such licences are only possible where the spectrum is owned by a public body such as the MoD.

But defence still needs a lot of spectrum, and the MoD has made public a report from PA consulting (pdf)on the military use of radio spectrum over the next 20 years - which forecasts increasing demand in the higher frequencies, but expects efficiency to increase with the adoption of intelligent radios.

Not to mention that the MoD is still working out exactly how much spectrum it is using today; a detailed audit won't be completed until March this year, which will then allow decisions about what's really needed and what can be traded off. That may involve a third party being taken to manage the licensing, with whom the MoD would plan to sign a deal by the middle of the year according to the report. ®

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