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Ofcom asks Arqiva to stick price on 600MHz spectrum

Six new HD Freeview channels up for grabs

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Arqiva, holders of a virtual monopoly on UK broadcast infrastructure, has been asked to provide indicative pricing in case anyone fancies launching some TV channels at 600MHz.

In an updated statement (pdf, short and to the point) Ofcom postpones any auction until the end of 2012, but the regulator has asked Arqiva to work out what it would charge someone to broadcast TV in the space, so potential media companies can see what it would cost.

The band isn't very valuable for anything else, as there's no international harmonisation, and thus no economies of scale. So building an LTE network or similar would be expensive. It's 56MHz wide (starting at 550MHz) so it would fit six new HD TV channels that could be received using existing Freeview boxes, if anyone wanted to broadcast them.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) runs in a contracted band, compared to analogue TV which is steadily being switched off, so that leaves gaps at the top and bottom. The top (800MHz) will get auctioned off next year (schedule permitting), but the bottom part remains unloved and largely unwanted.

The band could be thrown open to unlicensed use, like the slots at 433 and 868MHz which already exist for short range devices such as remote car keys, or UWB kit could be pushed into there. But again the lack of international standards would make such applications expensive.

So Ofcom wants to auction it off, on the well-established premise that he who's prepared to pay most will make greatest use of it. But the regulator can't do that until the upper part of the Digital Dividend is mapped out (if not auctioned off) and the potential value of the 600MHz band is well understood.

The latter means working out how much it would cost to broadcast a national TV multiplex, and as Arqiva is the only company which could do such a thing it's the one being asked to put together the figures, which will then be shared with potential bidders so they can decide how much the bandwidth is worth, and what they might want to do with it. ®

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