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Ofcom tries to chop months off EE's 4G exclusive

Spectrum jiggery pokery behind closed doors

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Ofcom is asking Arqiva to shift Freeview out of the 4G spectrum bands ahead of time, in the hope of appeasing the mobile operators who are still livid about EE's exclusive.

All the parties involved will be meeting today to discuss the matter, including the Ministry of Fun (who took over control of Ofcom last year) and the mobile operators themselves. But despite what's being reported in some quarters, there's no hope of the auction schedule changing, the plan is simply to make the spectrum available to the auction winners a little sooner.

The spectrum concerned is around 800MHz and used to be filled with analogue TV signals. The original plan was to have it clear by the end of 2012 (actually the very first plan was to have it cleared by 2006, but that was long ago) but the complexity of migrating everyone to digital slipped that deadline to around the end of 2013.

Ofcom is hoping to lop a few months off that time, perhaps clearing the larger cities by May next year, which could be around the same time the auction wraps up.

And that auction is not going to move, the legal framework and logistical effort involved would be enormous. One can't just shift an auction when there is so much money involved, companies are preparing to raise money, plotting strategies, making alliances and preparing to stab each other in the back - none of this can be moved on a whim.

But the spectrum can be cleared early, and now that the 4G cat is out of the bag, the network operators are desperate to get their 4G offerings onto the market. The challenge for Arqiva (which runs most of the broadcasting in the UK) is to work out a plan to shift multiplexes around the dial to get them into their ultimate home without interfering with the neighbours too much on the way.

So once the auction is over the new owners should be able to move into their new spectrum faster than previously thought, which is good news for everyone – except the Freeview viewers who'll have to do a bit more retuning a little more often than they had anticipated. ®

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