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Ofcom auction opens door to mobile WiMAX, TV

LONDON ? Britain's communications regulator Ofcom has started the firing pistol for a huge auction of frequencies for a range of services covering mobile WiMAX and mobile TV as well as alternative 3G networks.

Despite the importance of the frequencies being released ? three bands: 2500-2690 MHz, 2010-2025 MHz and 2290-2300 MHz and in total 215 MHz ? the government is unlikely to get anywhere near the huge ?23 billion it raised in 2000 from the original 3G auction.

The regulator asked for proposals from industry and interested parties for the auction, and said Monday (Dec.11) the consultation period will last till March 9 2007. It has retained DotEcon and Analysys as consultants on the auction.

It has also said its plans are part of a wider program to release around 400MHz of spectrum to the market over the next few years "creating major opportunities for extra innovation and competition in wireless services."

The plan includes a dozen different bands including the spectrum freed up by digital television switchover from analog for which the regulator will announce a separate consultation shortly.

In the consultation document published Monday, Ofcom proposes to release the spectrum though two separate auctions.

Bands 2500-2690 MHz and 2010-2025 MHz will be packaged into a number of lots and auctioned together. Participants will be able to bid for multiple lots. The auction will be conducted online using a secure server and the regulator anticipates there will be several rounds of bidding for the spectrum that includes the ability to provide mobile WiMAX and mobile TV networks.

Bands 2290-2300 MHz will be packaged as a single lot and auctioned though a sealed bid process.

In addition to mobile broadband and what Ofcom describes as "UMTS and its evolutions", or extended 3G services, the regulator sees companies bidding to offer mobile broadcast, such as wireless cameras for outside broadcasts, and temporary or portable video links.

For perhaps the most important of the bands being released, between 2500-2690 MHz ? which includes the frequencies for mobile wireless broadband including WiMAX and 3G extensions ? the proposed auction process has been designed to allow multiple licenses to be granted. Ofcom says the spectrum could be released by the end of 2007 although it adds this would depend on "on-going EU regulatory discussions."

As with all recently concluded auctions or others under discussion, the licenses are proposed to be tradable.

Ed Richards, Chief Executive of Ofcom, said: "Releasing more spectrum to the market will create new opportunities for innovation in wireless technologies, promoting competition and driving convergence."

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