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No licence required: Ofcom sets bandwidth bundle free

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Ofcom has proposed removing licence requirements from a handful of frequency bands, releasing microwave links and short-range radios, not to mention personal locator beacons, from the licensing burden.

The proposals (45-page PDF/253KB, very dull indeed) follow a consultation published back in April to remove licence requirements from a handful of bands on the grounds that derestriction would lead to greater utilisation – which is one of Ofcom's prime remits, despite the regulator's apparent focus on revenue generation and moral protection.

Not a lot of people responded to that consultation, reflecting the lack of interest in the bands. Requiring users to hold a licence for an emergency locator beacon, or a short-range sensor at 138MHz, just prevents them from being used, so hopefully removing that barrier will spur adoption. The same thing applies to radio links between 3.4 and 3.8GHz, but when it comes to 2GHz then things get a little more contentious.

Satellite operators did raise some concerns about the unlicensed use of 3.4-3.8GHs, pointing out that it is very close to their bands and needs to be watched carefully. Ofcom agreed to keep an eye on this, but is pushing ahead with the new rules.

At 2GHz, where the same satellite operators thought deregulation was a marvellous idea, the mobile operators got quite vocal. Everything Everywhere pointed out that it uses the neighbouring bands, and has a great deal to lose if unlicensed kit starts interfering with its 3G services. The arguments get quite intense, so Ofcom has postponed any decision on the 2GHz band until the CEPT makes a cross-Europe ruling.

Conforming with Europe also means allowing the existing mobile operators to deploy 3 and 4G services in the hitherto 2G-only 1800MHz band, which was expected but is now codified. Everything Everywhere has considerable holdings in that band, though making use of the ruling will require handsets and base stations which don't yet exist, but refarming the frequencies is an important first step.

Ofcom's proposals to do just that are now up for a final consultation, open until 21 November. ®

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