How do you cram a debate on the future of mobile services, data roaming and spectrum into an hour and a half? At last night’s Digital Economy All Party Political Group at Portcullis House in Westminster we made a pretty good job of it with a panel consisting of Hugh Davies, Director of Corporate Affairs for mobile network 3,Brian Williamson of Plum Consulting, Ruy Pinto of Inmarsat and Raj Sivalingham of Intellect.
This debate was hot on the heels of last week’s successful back bench motion by Rory Stewart, MP (Penrith and Cumbria) which called upon Ofcom to specify 98% mobile broadband coverage in the 4G auction in 2012.
3 stated that this is doable with existing base station infrastructure provided they received suitable low frequency spectrum allocation in the auction. O2 and Vodafone have already been reallocated spectrum out of their existing 900 and 1800MHz 3G licenses.
3 considered this to be unfair though it likely reflects the fact that the original successful bidders in the 3G auctions will not have recovered their investments. It is also a surprising example of cutting through the red tape – not something UK plc is renowned for.
For the uninitiated the lower the spectrum the better the reach of the signal. Indoor coverage also improves. This is important in the rural debate because a mast serving a valley will give a better and more penetrating service if it uses 900MHs as opposed to, for example 1,800MHz.
Although mobile broadband could make a contribution towards the government’s objective of 2Megs for all by 2015 I wouldn’t get too excited. Firstly it is still only 2Megs and not the 100Megs fibre that many think is the only sensible proposition for the long term. Secondly if the auction is in 2012 the chances of much of the LTE (4G = Long Term Evolution) network being in place by 2015 are pretty slim. Unless of course the mobile operators concentrate on rural areas first which would appear to be contrary to their normal business practices. Perhaps some government incentives…
Amongst the wide range of topics we discussed bandwidth usage. 3 claimed they carry 50% of UK mobile data traffic despite having the smallest bandwidth allocation, said they had seen 2,200% growth in data over the past 2 years and were forecasting a further 50% growth by the end of 2011 (does this represent a slow down?). They considered that they had existing capacity for 8x current usage levels. It would be interesting to contrast and compare with the other operators.
The company’s record monthly usage had recently hit 392GBytes for a single SIM! My norm is more like 1GB. Someone is seriously hammering their connection there. The average usage for a dongle is around 1GB and for a handset half that. Few people in the audience actually knew how much data bandwidth they used.
I seem to have concentrated mostly on input from 3 here but readers shouldn’t underestimate the contribution of all the panellists to the evening (scarce column space, time constraints etc). The DEAPPG events normally happen on Tuesdays and if you are interested in issues around the Digital Economy are definitely worth coming along to. You can check out future events at the DEAPPG website.