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Ofcom clears way for 3G kit on 2G spectrum

Nobody likely to freq out ahead of 2012 mega-auction

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Ofcom has modified the UK's mobile-operator licences to allow 3G services at 2G frequencies, though don't expect to be able to use them any time soon.

The proposed modifications were published last year, but have now been enacted with a couple of clarifications (pdf) including a promise to open up the frequencies to new technologies and require coordination with the railways (who run their own mobile network next door), but Ofcom isn't saying how much the operators are going to have to pay for all this newfound freedom.

The lucky operators who were first in the queue (Vodafone and O2) currently pay a minimal annual fee for their 2G spectrum – which was allocated to them when cellular telephony first arrived in the UK – but Everything Everywhere also has considerable holdings on which it will have to pay a market-based rent eventually. Ofcom reckons there's no point calculating that until after next year's mega-auction, as that will change everything.

What will also change is the list of permitted technologies; today's modified licence specifically allows 3G technology to be used in the 2G spectrum, but Ofcom tells us that's just because it's waiting for EU approval for fully technology-neutral licensing, something it expects to see later this year.

So from today network operators can switch on 3G connectivity in 2G frequencies (900 and 1800MHz), as long as they're not too near a railway (in which case they'll need to monitor possible interference with Network Rail's GSM-R network). But beyond a test site or two they won't – not until next year's mega-auction is mapped out (next month) or perhaps even completed (next year). ®

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