Ofcom Proposed Spectrum Auction: Analysis

Ofcom Consulting On The Auction Of Spectrum In The 2GHz BandThere’s a fair chunk of spectrum that’s sitting there not being used in the 2GHz band. The various bits are 2500-2690 MHz, 2010-2025 MHz and 2290-2300 MHz.

Ofcom has a duty to ensure spectrum isn’t wasted and as a consequence of the auction will end up driving revenue for the Government. Previously, and famously they did very well when they auctioned the 3G licenses, raising £21bn for the Treasury.

They recently auctioned some GSM spectrum and that only raised £3.8m, but it was much less than the 3G lot with many more restrictions.

Under its new face, and following EU directives, Ofcom likes to offer technology neutral licenses, which means the licensee can use the spectrum for whatever they want – as long as they meet the radio restrictions on that band (power, spectral masks, etc). They hope this will stimulate innovative services which is good for the economy.

There’s a lot of interest in the spectrum, as it could be used for lots of services including 3G and WiMAX, but that’s where the problems start.

Possible European Interference
There are various blocks of spectrum which are coordinated at a European level and each EU country uses the spectrum for the same things. That’s pretty much what happens for GSM and 3G, as well as some TV and radio bands.

It’s all organised by CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications) and the Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC), CEPT is represented by 47 countries and the RSC by 25 EU states. They ensure that radio usage is coordinated. Unfortunately radio waves don’t abide by national borders, so it would be no good if one country was using spectrum for say TV and another for radio as they’d interfere with each other.

Ofcom Consulting On The Auction Of Spectrum In The 2GHz Band

Though the UK is an island, interference issues are quite common, especially in the south east with France and the north east with the Dutch and even the Nordic countries. The west has to worry about Ireland (and of course Northern Ireland abides by UK policy).

These particular bands are already allocated for 3G, 10MHz in 2010 – 2020 MHz, is already designed for license-exempt self-provided, self-coordinated IMT-2000 use. In the UK none of the 3G networks have actually utilised it, though in other parts of Europe it has been used for this purpose.

2500 – 2690 MHz is currently mainly used for video broadcast systems, all licensees have been given notice to vacate by 31st December 2006. This is a significant amount of spectrum (190MHz) which is greater than is currently allocated to the whole of 3G use (140MHz). It was reserved for a “new” entrant if the current 5th 3G operator failed or for existing 3G expansion.

Ofcom’s suggestions summarised

Ofcom are currently holding UK consultations to see what stakeholders think should happen. They are proposing the following: –

2500-2690 MHz Packaged on the basis of blocks of 5 MHz as lots of paired spectrum (2×5 MHz, 120 MHz duplex spacing) and unpaired spectrum (5 MHz), with the eventual amount of lots in each category to be determined in the auction. The reference point is as per the CEPT band plan: 14 lots of paired channels (14x2x5 MHz with uplink in 2500-2570 MHz and downlink in 2620-2690 MHz) and 9 lots of unpaired channels (9×5 MHz in 2570-2615 MHz).

One guard channel will be necessary at adjacencies between paired and unpaired spectrum, at 2615-2620 MHz, and possibly another in the top part of the band.

There is a possibility to allow paired lots to be converted into the equivalent of two unpaired lots in the event that demand for unpaired lots exceeds that for paired lots at a given lot price.

Each bidder should receive contiguous lots in each category, except potentially one assignment of unpaired spectrum which could need to be split into two blocks of contiguous lots.

2010-2025 MHz Package for award as a single 15 MHz lot.

2290-2302 MHz Package for award as a single 10 MHz lot and retain 2300-2302 MHz for possible inclusion as part of a future award together with 2302-2310 MHz.

What might the response be?
The consultation will close in March 2007 and it’s likely the 3G operators will be extremely vocal in their claim to this spectrum, as they paid so much for their original licenses.

Once Ofcom digest the responses, they’ll then have to argue the case at the European level to ensure it can be licensed off in a technology neutral manner without upsetting our neighbours, however getting agreement from at least 47 countries tends to be a time consuming process.

Luckily CEPT are already discussing the issues and are expecting to make a statement in July next year. RSC will follow shortly after.

Although there’s no guarantee that discussions will go in Ofcom’s favour, they are hoping an award process can start in the Autumn of 2007, though it may well be delayed until 2008.

Potential Cash
With 16 national licenses available, there’s a fair amount of cash the government can expect to raise. Even if Ofcom set the minimum price at £50,000 then that’s £800,000 – they are likely to reach much higher values, although not the silly pricing that the original 3G licenses fetched.

CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications)
Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC)

Pigeon Enabled Internet Faster Than ADSL

Pigeon Enabled Internet, Faster Than ADSLThis has Friday Story written all over it. A few Israeli geeks set up a test to compare the speed of delivering data via pigeon (PEI – Pigeon Enabled Internet, as they’ve labelled it) compared with ADSL.

They’re building on Wi-Fly research carried out in Bergen, Norway a few years ago, when paper was used as the data medium. The latest version uses memory cards, 20-22 distributed over three pigeons, enabling much more data to be carried.

In total, 4Gb of data was transferred over 100Km – which, as they point out, is far superior to WiFi. Despite one of the pigeons being delayed, initially appearing to get lost on his journey (packet loss as they refer to it), they achieved a transfer rate of 2.27 Mbps, exceeding the commercially available ADSL rates in Israel of 0.75 – 1.5 Mbps.

Pigeon Enabled Internet, Faster Than ADSLAs you know, the A in ADSL stands for Asynchronous, so the transferred rates listed equate to the speed that information is received. Upload rates are significantly lower. By their calculations, uploading 4Gb of data on ADSL would take around 96 hours – making the pigeon transfer significantly more efficient, equivalent to a T1 connection at 1.5Mbps.

As they point out, the pigeon gives pretty high latency (it takes quite a while for the first bit of data to arrive), but once it arrives, all of the 4Gb is delivered at once.

I’d often thought how price efficient the postal transfer of DVD’s was. 4.7Gb transferred overnight for around 50 pence – try buying bandwidth at that rate.

Pigeon Enabled Internet, Faster Than ADSLChat around the office lead us to wonder what the next in the endless list of variation on creatures being used to transfer information would be. Nicolas Nova has provided the answer – Snail power.

PEI (Pigeon Enabled Internet) is FASTER then ADSL (via Nicolas Nova, through engadget)

Credit for images: Gil Pry-dvash, Gilad Reshef, Shai Vardi and Ami Ben Bassat

Ofcom Release Ultra Wideband (UWB) Document

Ofcom released a consultation document today on ultra wideband (UWB) in the UK.

Given Ofcom’s statutory duties under the Communications Act 2003 to ensure the optimal use of the radio spectrum under its management, they should be keen on UWB.

The strength of UWB also causes its problems. By simultaneously transmitting over a wide range of frequencies (around 3.1 – 10.6GHz, if you’re interested), UWB is able to achieve higher data transfer rate than other wireless technologies.

By spreading over these frequencies it has the possibility of interfering with services that currently operate in or around these services, such as 3G, broadband fixed wireless access and radio astronomy.

Back in May 2004, Ofcom commissioned Mason Communications and DotEcon to produce an independent report in to UWB. Delivered in December 2004 (Read the final report, all 218 pages of PDF fun), it looked at the advantages to the UK economy of allowing UWB applications and the disadvantages of increased interference to existing radio spectrum users.

The report focuses on the use of UWB to create a Personal Area Network (PAN) with examples of usage being; providing wireless connections between DVD players, displays and speakers; and using them for high speed wireless links between digital cameras and computers.

While acknowledging interference is likely, it’s clear that Ofcom feels this should be weighed carefully against UWB’s potential benefits. To check this interference, the suggestion is to use a technical ‘mask’, controlling the amount of power that could be used at different frequencies, in an attempt to reduce the impact of interference.

The US regulator has already authorised UWB on a licence-exempt basis, but Ofcom consider the US specification to be inappropriate for the UK. Their proposal is that if UWB is allowed, it should be on a licence-exempt basis, but be limited to the same in-band power levels as permitted in the US, but have tighter out-of-band limits.

Ofcom point out that there is a need to come to a decision soon, fearing US-built UWB devices could be imported in to the UK.

All of these add up to a big pressure on the frequency users that would be affected. It will be interesting to see what their reaction will be during the consultation period which closes 24 March 2005.

Ofcom Ultra Wideband consultation document
Mason Communications and DotEcon final report