UK Spectrum auction delayed?

Proposals for a large auction of radio spectrum next year to support wireless broadband could be delayed because of a possible merger between Orange and T-Mobile, the UK’s third- and fourth-largest mobile operators.

The government is hoping the auction can take place in the second half of next year, which would extend the availability of web browsing on mobiles from urban to rural areas. But a review of the likely merger between Orange and T-Mobile could push the auction into 2011 or later.

The government’s Digital Britain initiative, which aims to deliver a telecommunications infrastructure fit for the 21st century, identified the need to end the mobile operators’ lengthy dispute over spectrum ownership.The government is consulting on recommendations for spectrum reform made by Kip Meek, a former senior official at Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, who was asked to find a solution to the spectrum dispute because of fears it would hinder internet-based services on handsets, particularly in rural areas. In a report published last week Meek calls for an auction of several frequencies, including some currently used for the transmission of analogue television. He also recommends caps on operators’ spectrum holdings, so no company has a competitive advantage.