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Mobile Phone Companies and Universal Broadband

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 13 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Mobile Phone Universal Broadband Network

At the start of 2009, the UK government released an interim report called Digital Britain that looks at the future of broadband services in the UK in the near future. A key government target is to ensure that every home in the country has access to broadband that gives a speed of at least 2 megabytes a second by the year 2012.

Attaining this is quite a tall order as the infrastructure that would be needed in terms of cables is just not in place, and even with a strenuous building program, it couldn’t be achieved in the next three years. The only way to realistically offer homes in rural areas the same service is to provide some services remotely by wireless connections and, for this, the government needs to make changes to the way the airways are shared out between mobile network providers. These changes have caused a lot of argument and controversy.

Network Sharing in the 1980s

When the mobile phone networks shared out the airways back in the 1980s, vodafone and O2 (formerly known as Cellnet) were the only companies operating. Now there are three other major network providers – T-mobile, Orange and 3 and the government is proposing a radical shake up to enable these three other providers to take over a slice of the low frequency airwaves. The two mobile phone companies who currently share the 900 mega Hertz frequency between them are not pleased, as they use this lower frequency to be able to provide a signal over long distances. Their coverage would not be as reliable in places that are further from a transmitter if they lost this chunk of the airwaves.

An Imposed Solution

It is possible that the government will offer part of the airwaves that is being freed up by switching off the analogue TV signal later in 2009, which would go someway to compensate the companies who are losing out. However, coming to an agreement is going to be difficult and the government has imposed a 3-month deadline. If the networks cannot come up with a way of sharing out the airwaves by the end of that time, the government has said that it will decide what should be done and will then impose their decision.

This would be a very unpopular move and one that has been criticised widely in the telecommunications sector. Already, the two original mobile network companies have been threatened with having part of their airwaves removed before the negotiations and the time given for these important talks to take place is very limited.

Does Universal Mean Universal?

Not exactly. Although the government and particularly the team headed by Lord Carter have used terms such as universal broadband, guaranteed service and full rollout, in reality the discussions have admitted that this full service will be restricted to urban areas and the rural areas surrounding them. Very remote settlements, such as those in the highlands of Scotland my get broadband but at lower speeds, and some of it may be unreliable. The best estimates suggest that about 65% of the UK will achieve higher speed broadband in the next five years.

Lower Prices?

The higher speeds for broadband that are becoming possible with landlines are now available at much lower prices than 5 years ago. It is now possible to get a contract for high-speed broadband (up to 8Meg) for less than £10 per month, a big reduction on the standard £20 - £25 per month cost that used to be charged. The predictions are that prices will continue to fall as the government applies more pressure for the broadband service to be as widespread as possible.

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