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Ofcom to borrow cup o' spectrum for Olympics

Using less than a third the engineers Beijing had

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Ofcom is laying the groundwork for the London Olympics, outlining plans to borrow radio spectrum, but will be running the event with a fraction of the engineering resource of its Chinese predecessor.

The UK government promised free radio spectrum as part of its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, but has left it up to Ofcom to arrange the details, which include borrowing spectrum from the MoD and pushing into the Digital Dividends, and policing the whole thing with only 32 engineers compared to Beijing's complement of more than 300.

But that's OK 'cos other countries will be expected to chip in some technical support too. Add those people in, plus a few old chaps brought out of retirement, and the UK will be fielding an "especially large team" team of 90 - that's "especially large" compared to Ofcom's usual staff, not Beijing obviously.

That's just field engineers of course - the operation will mostly be about paper-pushing and ensuring everyone knows which band they're supposed to be using. Ofcom estimates it's going to need 350 wireless microphones, 75 HD video streams (three airborne) and 781 talkback channels for the games, so will be filling every spare frequency it can find.

The Apollo network, a mobile telephone network being built specifically for the running of the Games, has been up and running for the last six months (at 385MHz), but at least no one was interested in running an Olympic DAB radio station, or ever fulfilled Boris Johnson's dream of broadcast video sent to the phones of spectators who couldn't get a decent view. Both those services were offered free radio spectrum, but despite that no one was interested in offering either of them.

Just managing who gets which frequency is a major logistical challenge, and one which is open to abuse in the famously incestuous world of entertainment technology: it's hard to impartially allocate spectrum when one might have been working, or hope to work, for one of the companies involved.

Luckily there's plenty of space where analogue TV used to be, which hasn't yet been sold off, and the MoD will lend some of the huge swaths of radio spectrum it has allocated, so as long as no more than 32 people break the rules at the same time everything should be just fine. ®

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