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Spectrum auction faces delay

19 октября 2009

Plans to speed the availability of internet access on mobile phones were unveiled on Friday by ministers.

However, proposals for a large auction of radio spectrum next year to support wireless broadband could be delayed because of a possible merger between Orange and T-Mobile, the UK’s third- and fourth-largest mobile operators.

The government is hoping the auction can take place in the second half of next year, which would extend the availability of web browsing on mobiles from urban to rural areas.

But a review of the likely merger between Orange and T-Mobile could push the auction into 2011 or later.

The government’s Digital Britain initiative, which aims to deliver a telecommunications infrastructure fit for the 21st century, identified the need to end the mobile operators’ lengthy dispute over spectrum ownership.

Stephen Timms, the Treasury minister responsible for Digital Britain, said: “It is vital that we make the best use of the digital spectrum and ensure that sufficient bandwidth is available for sophisticated next-generation services, and not just calls and texts.”

The government is consulting on recommendations for spectrum reform made by Kip Meek, a former senior official at Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, who was asked to find a solution to the spectrum dispute because of fears it would hinder internet-based services on handsets, particularly in rural areas.

In a report published on Friday, Mr Meek calls for an auction of several frequencies, including some currently used for the transmission of analogue television.

His recommendations also include placing caps on operators’ spectrum holdings, so no company has a competitive advantage.

Mr Meek said the caps could be varied to take account of a merger of Orange and T-Mobile, which would create the UK’s largest mobile operator.

Competition authorities, either in the UK or Brussels, are expected to assess the merger, including the spectrum held by the combined company. The company would hold much of the spectrum at the 1800MHz frequency, and the authorities might insist on it giving some up.

If the authorities’ review deviates from Mr Meek’s plans significantly, it risks reopening the dispute over spectrum ownership.

Vodafone, the second-largest operator, said the proposed merger meant there was a case for further careful review of spectrum holdings, “to ensure competition is safeguarded”.

Orange expressed support for the Digital Britain initiative, but declined to say whether it would give up spectrum as part of a merger with T-Mobile.

Источник: Financial Times

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