Ofcom has announced a radical overhaul of the UK's spectrum in which it will put itself out of a job by releasing the majority of it to the market.
Apparently, the super-regulator has learnt from previous failed efforts to auction off spectrum and has decided market forces are the way forward. At least then it won't be to blame. It is a significant departure from the norm however. "It will be the first time in the world that a technology neutral approach has been taken," said William Webb, head of research and development at Ofcom and author of the Spectrum Framework Review published today.
Ofcom's move will be welcomed, as its attempts to handle the spectrum commercially have been a spectacular failure. Companies had to pay way over the odds for 3G spectrum, delaying the implementation of the technology by years; fixed wireless links have flopped because no-one bought the licences, and the 3.4GHz spectrum swiftly all went to one player, PCCW, who got a monopoly for a bargain.
Currently companies can hold a licence for a particular technology on a defined waveband (say mobile phones or fixed wireless). By 2010, on 72 percent of the UK's spectrum, companies with a licence will be able to use any technology they choose, and sell the licence on to others if they don't need it. Ofcom will keep control of 21 percent needed for inernational services such as radar, aeronautical and maritime communications. In the rest of the spectrum, the only limits will be on emitted power.
For a more in-depth review of the Spectrum Framework Review and what it means, check out our feature on the whole issue.