FCC making some money again.
aul Marks, senior technology correspondent
After paying around £5 billion each in the UK auction for 3G frequencies in 2000, Britain’s cellphone companies are gearing up to bid for the next round of over-the-air bandwidth after the telecomms regulator Ofcom announced that two chunks of 4G frequencies will be auctioned off to cellphone firms in early 2012.
It will doubtless mean a re-run of the bizarre, high-rolling year 2000 auction which has become known as the biggest auction ever – famously raising £22.5 billion for “selling air”, as the economists who organised the event put it. What’s on offer is a 72 megahertz (MHz) chunk of the soon-to-be-cleared UHF analogue TV band (near 800 MHz) and a much larger chunk in the microwave band near 2.6 GHz, a tad above the Wi-Fi band. The UHF frequencies will be good for expanding wireless internet coverage into rural areas, while the microwave addition will fuel better urban services.
Together, the buyers of these frequencies are expected to pave the way for the evolution of 3G services to much faster 4G services, probably adhering to a variant of the emerging Long Term Evolution (LTE) format proposed by the likes of the folks behind 3G, the Third Generation Project Partnership (3GPP), and NTT Docomo of Japan.
Ultimately, the 4G standard settled upon by the UN’s International Telecommunications Union in the next year or so aims to allow downloads-to-your-device at a blistering 100 megabits per second. What’s worth bearing in mind is that any firm offering “4G” service right now is not adhering to any agreed global standard – see this review for a spot of proof.
By the way, the extra bandwidth being auctioned off by Ofcom comes on top of the “white space spectrum” – the free-to-use bandwidth that it (and the FCC in the US) are opening up. This will allow domestic gadgets to use the local frequencies left unused by digital terrestrial TV services to communicate over distances about twice or three times that of Wi-Fi. As well as letting us use our laptops in the park while still connected to our home white-space-capable Wi-Fi router, there’s a nascent market in wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) communications brewing.
For instance, Neul, a Cambridge, UK startup, aims to allow machines to chirp messages to each other using white space broadcasts. As the latest version of the internet protocol, IPv6, takes off, and we each get Avagadro’s number of internet addresses, Neul’s aim is to help the 20 billion devices expected to be connected to the net by 2020 talk to each other – and cheaply. Seems we can expect a raft of similarly innovative types to come out of the woodwork as governments sell – or give us back – our air.