Liberalising spectrum

21 Jul 2010

As chief strategy officer of Vodafone, a company that has recently transformed from a mobile carrier to a total telecoms service provider, TIF’s vice chairman Gerry Fahy is a useful bellwether for the shape and health of the telecoms industry.

He points out that the bandwidth required by users of both fixed and mobile users is increasing at an alarming pace. “It is almost impossible to predict the capacity we’ll require in five or 10 years’ time. How we as an industry cater for that is the issue. How do we find the right investment models, the right competition models, the right regulatory models and the right policy models to ensure that as an industry and as a nation we get the best out of that opportunity?”

Fahy says that it will take the investors in the next-generation networks – the people who understand the products and services – to deliver the future networks. “Today, we have a competitive market and to have Government come in or intervene would not be seen as a positive by Brussels or regulators.

“It is about finding the right industry model that works best because only industry can deliver that future.

“The only way forward is to collaborate, point investment in the right direction and get shareholders to invest in that future.”

Government involvement in market conditions

None of this, however, means that Government doesn’t have a role to play. Fahy is adamant there is a lot Government can do to facilitate the right market conditions.

“Government have control over the main cost of delivering the fibre future in terms of the actual physical works, the digging of the ground, the pulling through of the cable … the vast amount of costs are incurred this way. Government controls most of that cost through local authorities who provide permits, who charge companies access fees and restoration fees. So the vast majority of the costs that will go into building NGNs will be through Government decisions. Government also control the allocation of spectrum and spectrum policy. Industry has made it clear that digital dividend is key to the future of the NGN but at the moment that is tied up in government policy. The earlier this can be facilitated the better.

“There’s a lot of tools in the Government’s hands that can facilitate the industry model to create and deliver the future.”

On the subject of spectrum, Fahy believes the old 2G spectrum can be used to facilitate broadband services in rural areas. The time for talking, he said, is over. Now it’s time to act.

“I think that what we need to do is ensure that in getting to the future of liberalising this spectrum and making it available for new uses we don’t upset the existing model of how services are delivered.

“We need to look at where we are today and decide where we want to be in the future in a smooth way that delivers the benefits we all want to deliver, that we can deliver services faster all over the country on 900Mhz spectrum. Also, clearly, there’s a value to the spectrum and the State has to be enabled to take the appropriate value.

“All of that has to be balanced. We are currently in a little bit of a waiting period as to why see what ComReg would decide. But time is running out and decisions need to be made,” he warns.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years