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7/6/09

Girl seeks boy:  Must lavish loads of attention on me, spend months working out how to impress me and spend vast fortunes. In return I’ll let you borrow me from my long term partner, take me out for seven weeks. Then that’s it: Over.

How does that sound for a wanted ad? Even the most non-committal boy might find the lack of dedication a bit of a turn off.

It is however remarkably similar to what Ofcom, the British licensing authority is planning.

Ofcom is the UK authority on all things broadcasting from TV content to future technologies and frequencies is the Office of Communications.  It has decided that it needs to provide an allocation of Spectrum for the Olympics. So  have done what Ofcom does best and set up a period of consultation. The Olympics lasts seven weeks. The consultation period is mercifully short for Ofcom at just two and a bit months. Results then get published four months later. There it is job done, eighteen months ahead of the spectrum being needed there will be a statement of intent.

There is no awareness that a year and a half is precious little to develop, test, market and sell any devices. What makes it worse is that some of these will only have a seven week life. What’s the business case for this? Who is going to buy the very low volume, very expensive hardware that has a lifespan of two months? If it’s just existing hardware with the frequencies changed it’s still going to be redundant after the Olympics and as it is, it’s hardly groundbreaking equipment. Or military equipment ill-suited for the purpose.

Ofcom needs to think bigger. One of the reasons London won the Olympics was the plans for legacy investment. Ofcom suggests “Temporarily borrowing spectrum on a short-term basis from public sector bodies, such as the Ministry of Defence”. That’s not legacy.  Legacy would be spectrum for a mobile phone network of the future.

Ofcom should give existing mobile phone networks spectrum from the Digital Dividend, that is switching off analogue TV to go digital. There is a massive 400MHz available and Ofcom should follow the French lead and allocate 790MHz to 862MHz and do  it in a true legacy way. The spectrum has to be used for LTE. It should not just cover all the Olympic sites but provide continuous coverage between all of them, giving good initial UK roll-out of LTE. From London to Glasgow, Newcastle to  Cardiff. Particularly addressing the dreadful coverage on the railways.

Those  attending the games would  stay better connected with what was happening at the remote sites as they travelled between them. Journalists would be able to work on reports from one event while travelling to the next and remove the ghettoisation of the Olympic village.

Mobile networks who were prepared to step up to the plate with roll-out should not be expected to pay for the spectrum.  And being legacy it’s not just for seven weeks but for many years.

What will Ofcom get for this? Well they won’t get a big wad of cash like they did for the 3G licence fees but that’s not likely to happen anyway.  The days of the networks paying billions of dollars each for spectrum are over. Mexico has just said it hopes to get $1.5bn for its 3G auction and that is in a country with massive potential. Even then it smacks of the government talking the price up.

 The British government just got lucky with the $22bn it received for the 3G licences and needs to look at how it took about five years to turn those into anything more than token networks. None of the other European governments did quite so well because the networks had spent everything in the UK.

What the British people would get is a leading edge in LTE. It would help all those start-up and established companies around Cambridge build something for export. We need more companies like ARM and CSR.

It helps set the frequency standard – huh, like the Americans listened last time? GSM 1900/850, WCDMA 1900 and then they wonder why they get crappy phones –  at least across Europe and Asia.

Girl seeks boy: for a long lasting relationship that will grow and prosper for decades to come. To produce something special for the benefit of their families, country and the world. GSOH, non-smokers preferred.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here. Follow me on Twitter here.


 

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