UK report recommends spectrum caps

Lord Carter’s adviser Kip Meek has proposed a radical shakeup of the UK’s airwaves he believes will bring mobile broadband to everyone at twice the speed the communications minister originally envisaged within five years.

Meek wants part of the spectrum that will be freed up by the switch-off of analogue television by 2012 – the so-called “digital dividend” – to be sold next year under the condition that it is used to get basic mobile broadband coverage to 99 per cent of the population. The UK’s five mobile phone companies will also have their existing 3G licences extended in return for extending high-speed mobile broadband coverage from its current base of just over 80 per cent of the population.

“What is the prize?” Meek asks in his report as Carter’s independent spectrum broker, “By expediting the introduction of, and investment in, nationwide next generation mobile services, it is within the UK’s grasp to achieve within five years mobile broadband at around 4Mbps across the UK as a whole and more than 50 megabits per second in many urban areas. This would put the UK at the forefront of commercially-deployed mobile technology around the world, delivering economic and social benefits that far outweigh the costs.”

Meek’s proposal for services at around 4Mbps is twice the speed that Carter had proposed in his interim Digital Britain report in January.

Under Meek’s proposals, O2 and Vodafone will not be forced to give up some of the capacity they were granted when they started mobile phone services in the 1980s, abandoning a plan that dates back to 2007. Instead Meek has recommended capping the amount of spectrum that the mobile phone operators can hold, as reported by the Guardian last month.

This would preclude O2 and Vodafone from buying the new spectrum that can be used once the analogue television signal is switched off in 2012, unless they sold some of their existing holdings. Meek plans to auction this spectrum in three blocks, which will include regional coverage targets. Successful bidders would also have to allow other companies to use their networks for their own services.

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