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Ofcom steams ahead with Crown rights, prepares to sell family jewels

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Ofcom is to start providing Recognised Spectrum Access permissions to Crown bodies that previously just used frequencies by common agreement – so they can start selling them off, obviously.

That process will start with two 80MHz-wide bands currently managed by the MoD that could find themselves on the open market by the end of next year, though Ofcom's role is only to define a legal mechanism by which they can be sold rather than make any decision about selling them as defined in the regulators statement on the matter (PDF/231 KB).

The bands concerned run from 3.4 to 3.48GHz and 3.5 to 3.58GHz, there being 20MHz between them which is owned by UK Broadband and used for its fixed wireless. UK Broadband is obviously concerned about what's going to become of the neighbourhood, which until now has existed in a comfortable void between regulators.

Crown properties, including the Ministry of Defence, have never been formally given the right, or been invoiced, to use any particular radio frequencies. They just notified the regulator and got on with it, which is why we have great swaths of the radio spectrum which is allocated to governmental use, but remains sparsely utilised.

Ofcom's mandate is efficient use of spectrum, so it created Administered Incentive Pricing – a calculation that allows the regulator to start invoicing spectrum users who have never paid for licences. The spectrum users then asked how they could go about divesting themselves of that responsibility, which brings us to Recognised Spectrum Access (RSA).

Once awarded, an RSA can be converted to a licence by selling it off, or even handed back to Ofcom to auction. The first RSA will be issued to the MoD for the two bands around 3.4GHz, and the Ministry reckons to get shot of them by the end of next year.

Ofcom suggested all this last year, drawing comments from Everything Everywhere – which would like to see spectrum chunks of 5MHz mandated to the benefit of mobile technologies – and UK Broadband, which would like some proper guard bands but would really prefer to throw the two chunks of spectrum into the forthcoming mega-auction that's already scheduled to sell off 800Mhz (digital dividend) and 2.6GHz (3G expansion) bands later this year.

But, as Ofcom puts it: "[T]he combined award of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands is already a complex and very challenging process; adding the 3.4GHz band to this process would make it even complex."

More importantly, Ofcom isn't planning to sell off the 3.4GHz bands; it is up to the MoD to decide what to do with them. So Ofcom can't be accused of running the management of radio spectrum just to raise revenue for itself – this time it is changing the rules to allow someone else to make some money selling off the airwaves instead. ®

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