UK paves way for broadband boost

UK paves way for broadband boost

The UK has put into action plans to bring enhanced mobile broadband coverage to as much as 90 per cent of the country and give many households access to fixed line broadband.

At the end of last week, the UK government launched a consultation setting out its intention to implement a series of recommendations made by the Independent Spectrum Broker (ISB), Kip Meek, on how to make the best use of the country’s digital spectrum.

Meek’s proposals were welcomed by the government’s Digital Britain report, and will make available parts of the spectrum suitable for mobile broadband and 3G to offer more sophisticated services and applications. The plans also address mobile phone ‘not spots’ – coverage dead zones in some rural areas.

Under a direction to UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, the government will seek to free up the 800MHz spectrum due to be released through digital switchover, with the intention of co-ordinating an auction of 2.6Ghz and 800Mhz spectrum as soon as possible.

However, in the wake of proposals by France Telecom and Deutsche Telecom to merge their respective UK mobile units – Orange and T-Mobile – the government is also eyeing a separate auction of the 2.6GHz spectrum in early 2010 should the combined auction be delayed, to allow the use of TDD spectrum for WiMAX services.

It’s entirely likely that the proposed merger will throw a spanner in the works of the auction process, as the government is planning to introduce caps on the amount of spectrum that individual operators may hold in order to avoid an imbalance in lower or higher frequencies. If the merger goes ahead, the combined entity could end up with a monopoly on2G spectrum, unless the government forces some of it to be relinquished.

Incidentally, UK WiMAX operator Freedom4 was recently granted permission from Ofcom to extend nomadic and mobility to its national 3.6GHz licence, bringing it in line with PCCW-owned UK Broadband’s licence.

Commenting on the proposals, UK minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms said: “This package will free up the airwaves for the expansion of wireless and 3G services, increasing their reach to consumers and businesses across as much as 90 per cent of the country, including rural communities.”

At the same time, Ofcom will take leadership of a Consortium for the promotion of Digital Participation, to develop an initiative following the government’s national plan to increase the reach, breadth and depth of digital technology use, otherwise addressing the so called ‘digital divide’.

The inauguration of the consortium follows Finland’s recent move to make 1Mbps broadband a “legal right”.

Key points from the Digital Britain white paper unveiled in the summer include the creation of equal access to at least 2Mbps broadband nationwide by 2012 through the creation of an investment fund; a £0.50 per month levy on all copper lines, which will go into the independent Next Generation Fund and will be available as a subsidy to operators willing to extend broadband coverage to the final third of homes where it is not available; the upgrade of all radio services to digital by 2015; changes to 3G licence terms, making them indefinite, rather than fixed term licences, which should encourage investment and deliver in building speeds of 1Mbps by 2013; and new powers for industry regulator Ofcom as well as a new requirement that the watchdog carry out a full assessment of the UK’s communications infrastructure every two years.

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