Ofcom has announced another of its periodic attempts to auction spectrum for wireless broadband, a practice that has come under heavy criticism in the past.
Last week, the communications industry regulator published proposals for auctioning licences for 10GHz, 28GHz and 32GHz frequencies in the second half of 2007.
The licences would be granted on a technology and application-neutral basis, but one possible use includes video broadcasting, particularly in the 10GHz band, which Ofcom said could be set up in time for the 2012 Olympic Games.
All three bands would be suitable for high-capacity, high-speed mobile data connections, and the 10GHz and 28GHz bands could be used for standard broadband, Ofcom said.
In January 2005, Ofcom announced a massive programme of deregulation, including a substantial allocation and release of spectrum over the next few years.
The regulator is proposing a single UK-wide 10GHz licence; two UK-wide and three geographically limited 28GHz licences; and six UK-wide 32GHz licences. All would be awarded in a simultaneous, multiple-round auction, and would be tradable.
The consultation documents can be found on Ofcom's website. The deadline for responses is 7 September 2006.
The UK government has carried out several high-profile spectrum auctions in recent years that have been regarded as failures, at least by the telecoms industry. One of the most controversial was the 3G auction of 2001, which cost the industry a staggering £22.5 billion and forced companies to slow spending in other areas.
The government later held several auctions for the 28GHz band, which attracted little interest - the first sold about a third of the licences up for offer, and the second attracted no bids.
An ISP start-up called Libera planned to use the 28GHz band for wireless broadband services, but dumped the plan in favour of WiMax technology using the unlicenced 5.8GHz band. 28GHz gear is notoriously expensive.
The government's response the next time around was to strip away restrictions on the licences, including the requirement to actually use the spectrum - the "use it or lose it" condition. An auction in 2003 resulted in the 3.4GHz being controlled by one operator, PCCW.
PCCW's subsidiary UK Broadband offers a service originally called Netvigator - later changed to "now" - to around 1,000 customers in parts of the Thames Valley. The remaining licences around the UK are so far unused.
Ofcom's hands-off approach has impressed EU officials, which this week launched a consultation on a proposed EU-wide regulator. Just as Ofcom has done, the EU proposes to cut back on regulation in some areas, such as price control and non-discrimination between customers, instead, relying on competition to keep prices down.
The EU has, nevertheless, taken a firm hand recently in areas such as intra-EU mobile phone roaming charges.
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