The government may have to step in to sort out a long running battle over who should be able to operate services in the 900MHz spectrum which is currently owned and used solely by Vodafone and O2 for GSM mobile phone services. Lord Carter informed networks that they had until the end of April to resolve the dispute by trading spectrum between themselves.
With a suggested universal service obligation (USO) of broadband running at 2Mbps, this spectrum could be vital in providing services where it is too expensive to provide broadband over the fixed line telephony infrastructure. The 900MHz spectrum has an advantage over the existing 2100MHz used for 3G services in the UK as the signal can travel a longer distance and can also penetrate further into buildings, allowing better coverage.
A former Ofcom official, Kip Meek, has been drafted in to help broker the deal between the mobile operators although reaching a solution with a month remaining seems unlikely as each operator has different ideas on how the spectrum should be divided up. Orange has offered to provide the USO of 2Mbps (without additional funding) as long as it gets two 5MHz slots allocated to it from within the 900MHz spectrum. Three want two 15MHz slots to be made available. Ofcom's solution is that both Vodafone and O2 will give up two slots of 2.5MHz each which would then be auctioned off, with Vodafone and O2 prohibited from bidding.
Vodafone and O2 are likely to fight any imposed solution in the courts and this may impede getting the 2Mbps broadband USO available to those in some rural locations by 2012.