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Orange merger delays broadband spectrum auction

The planned merger of mobile operators T-Mobile and Orange could delay the UK's proposed auction of radio spectrum to extend web browsing on mobiles to rural areas.

The planned merger of mobile operators T-Mobile and Orange could delay the UK's proposed auction of radio spectrum to extend web browsing on mobiles to rural areas.

The auction was planned for the second half of next year. It is part of government plans to end a dispute over spectrum and boost wireless access to broadband services.

But a review of the merger of the UK's third and fourth largest mobile operators could delay the auction at least until 2011, according to the Financial Times.

Competition authorities are expected to assess the merger, including the spectrum held by the combined company, which will become largest UK mobile operator.

If the review's findings differ from a government report's recommendations on spectrum reform, the dispute over spectrum ownership could be re-opened, the FT said.

The report was drawn up after the government's Digital Britain initiative identified the need to end the mobile operators' dispute over spectrum ownership.

The report calls for an auction of several frequencies in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands. These include some frequencies currently used for transmitting analogue television.

The recommendations also include capping operators' spectrum holdings, so no company has a competitive advantage.

In return for giving mobile broadband access to more people, network operators will get indefinite 3G licences, the government has promised.

Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms said last week it was vital to make the best use of the digital spectrum. He said it was essential to ensure users had enough bandwidth for next generation services, and not just calls and texts.

Image: Kelly Redinger/Design Pics Inc/Rex Features

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