Ofcom encourages new services and price cuts

Ofcom has begun a consultation on the way wireless spectrum should be used to deliver new services such as WiMax wireless...

Ofcom has begun a consultation on the way wireless spectrum should be used to deliver new services such as WiMax wireless broadband offerings, which are expected some time next year.

The review will also look at how existing holders of spectrum licences can be offered more flexibility in the way they use their spectrum bands.

The telecoms watchdog's proposals are part of its wider policy to reduce the role of the regulator and give more responsibility to the market for deciding how spectrum should be used.

Ofcom believes these proposals will benefit users and businesses by encouraging greater innovation and enabling greater competition between providers, thereby helping to drive down prices and increase the scope for new services.

Spectrum was previously managed by the Radiocommunications Agency, before it was merged into Ofcom along with other communications regulators.

The Radiocommunications Agency had been accused by user groups of simply selling spectrum to the highest bidder, rather than making sure that the right services were available to users.

The auction of 3G mobile licences in 2000 was a case in point - large amounts of cash were raised for the government through 3G licences, but the first 3G services took four years to reach the market.

Ofcom said of its consultation, "Regulators have traditionally adopted a 'command and control' approach in dictating the Wireless Telegraphy Act licence terms [see box], imposing a variety of restrictions depending on the service.

"Ofcom proposes instead to introduce greater flexibility by reducing restrictions on type of use."

Under its proposals, which are subject to public consultation, Ofcom said three key licence types - business radio, fixed wireless access and fixed wireless services - should be addressed as a priority.

The first WiMax service providers and equipment manufacturers will be covered by the last two categories, and their inclusion as a priority is timely considering the first WiMax services are expected next year.

WiMax has a maximum data speed of 75mbps and can operate over distances of up to 50km, making it ideal for companies in rural areas poorly served by fixed-line broadband services.

Ofcom said holders of these three licence types could benefit from changes to their licence terms before the end of the year.

The closing date for responses to Ofcom's consultation on spectrum liberalisation is 12 November.


The Act and Ofcom's proposals 

Spectrum bands covered by the Wireless Telegraphy Act:  

  • Aeronautical and maritime band 
  • Amateur and citizens' band  
  • Broadband fixed wireless access  
  • Broadcasting  
  • Fixed wireless services  
  • Business radio  
  • Programme making 
  • Public wireless networks  
  • Satellites  
  • Space science  
  • Non-operational licensing    

Ofcom recognises that increased flexibility could lead to an increase in interference between different users' transmissions. Its proposals outline various measures that will enable the regulator to maintain control over interference to avoid disruption to services.

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