Will the digital dividend be shared fairly?

As Ofcom prepares to allow new users to have licences for the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands, manufacturer of spectrum analysis equipment, CRFS, has questioned whether those users get what they pay for.

Alistair Massarella, CEO of CRFS, explained his concerns: “When we look at the apparently unused 2.6GHz spectrum block, we see a low level of usage. However, there are areas within this band in which CRFS has detected activity in the band and we need to make sure this spectrum is clear and fit for purpose”.

David Cleevely, chairman of CRFS, articulated potential investors’ concerns: “The valuation put on some spectrum blocks by Ofcom is large, at £2 billion to £3 billion for the 800MHz block for example. If there is interference, even at the margins, then the alteration in this valuation, albeit small in percentage terms, will amount to a large alteration in cash terms. Potential investors will need to understand the level of interference they will face. Therefore, there will need to be careful measurement of interference so that the regulator and investors understand exactly what is being bought and sold”.

Looking at the 800MHz usage across the UK we see a different picture. Here most of the UK uses some of these frequencies intensively for analogue and digital television broadcasting as well as many other services. Others are lightly used.

Cleevely elaborated: “800 MHz is already used relatively lightly, and some bands could be used now. An example of that would be north of Glasgow where coverage at 800MHz is very low. A good use for this would be broadband wireless, so helping us build Digital Britain.

“However, our experience shows that not all spectrum is clean, especially in dense urban areas. There are indications that even the 800MHz bands might have unauthorised use. Given that more intense use of this spectrum is planned, including the ‘white space’ between bands, we think further investigation is needed to establish what is, and is not, actually usable.”