Tuesday, 6 March 2012

4G Mobile Broadband: UK lags Behind as Ofcom Frets

SUPERFAST mobile broadband services won't come to UK shores until at least 2013, Ofcom has confirmed.

The regulator has set the sale of the 2.4Ghz and 800Mhz wireless bands for some time in 2012.

The regulator is taking plenty of time to get the auction process right despite calls from consumers and campaigners to push the process along to see the UK catch up with the rest of the world.

4G mobile broadband services are already available in several countries around the world including Sweden, USA, Japan and Mongolia. Germany also recently completed an auction of its 4G spectrum.

It's a fix

The UK's four mobile operators - Vodafone, O2, Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-Mobile), and 3 - are all expected to walk away with a very similar piece of the pie after Ofcom placed limits on the amount of spectrum any one company could acquire citing "risks" to future competition if less than four operators were successful.

These rules are believed to have been drawn up in order to protect 3, the mobile phone and broadband operator which entered the market in 2002 after spending collosal sums on 3G spectrum.

The company has yet to turn a profit in its eight year history.

3's Chief Executive Kevin Russell had demanded that the rules be put in place after claiming that, "there is a risk of a strategic premium being bid to squeeze 3 out of the marketplace".

3 is relying on the 800Mhz specturm, which delivers wireless over a much larger area, to help push its services out of built-up areas into rural ones.

O2 and Vodafone both already own 900Mhz spectrum and Russell, backed up by Everything Everywhere is calling for a limit to be placed on ownership of sub-1Ghz spectrum.

Osborne's payday

Although the irony of Vodafone contributing a huge amount of cash to the Treasury would have been enjoyable, sadly there shall be no repeat of the bonanza windfall the government recieved for the 3G auction in 2000.

That auction was held at the height of the dot.com boom and netted £22.5bn for the Chancellor.

Investment in mobile broadband services suffered as a result however, with mobile broadband networks not up to scratch until many years later and operators are keen not to repeat their past mistakes. This auction is likely to raise only a tenth of the previous one.

Another countryside con?

Mobile operators say they are aiming for 4G services to extend to 95% of the population roughly in line with 3G.

Whilst this may sound like almost complete coverage, due to the low population density of rural areas such as the Lake District it actually results in large swathes of the rural map without any coverage at all.

Rural broadband campaigners have been calling for next generation mobile services to finally bring superfast broadband and mobile reception to remote locations.

It is hoped that by utilising the longer wavelength of the soon to be redundant analogue TV, 800Mhz band, 4G mobile broadband services will get to places 3G couldn't.

Improved 4G mobile phone coverage will also deliver voice services for the first time in some places, meaning if you get stuck up Hellvelyn with a Yeti after you, you may be able to call for help witout having to send smoke signals.

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