The European Union announced that the Council of Ministers has followed the European Parliament in approving plans to allow the use of 900MHz GSM spectrum for other services such as 3G or newer 4G technologies like LTE. This is expected to add wood to the fire for mobile operators who are currently battling over the re-allocation of the 900MHz spectrum.
The 1987 GSM Directive reserved part of the 900MHz spectrum to only be used by GSM based devices, an older 2G technology that all mobile phones across Europe support. Adapting the rules allows it to be used for mobile broadband services which use 3G or 3.5G technology (and future technologies) to reach further, increasing the performance and range. The problem with this is that only two mobile operators in the UK, Vodafone and O2, have parts of this lucrative 900MHz spectrum, whilst the others are left up in the 1800MHz GSM range. Orange, T-Mobile and Three do not have any of the lower band so will be severely disadvantaged if Vodafone and O2 are able to create more competitive services by the redeployment of the 900MHz spectrum for newer services.
Indeed, there is already a battle occurring between the mobile operators over whether Vodafone and O2 should be allowed to dominate the 900MHz band on their own, with the government trying to help broker a deal. Ofcom suggest that each of Vodafone and O2 should give up two lots of 2.5MHz (from their current allocation of two lots of 17.4MHz blocks) which could be auctioned off to another provider. Vodafone and O2 are obviously against any plans that sees them relinquish their precious spectrum and are expected to fight any decisions in the courts. The new EU rules are expected to be valid from September.