Operators should exploit wireless opportunity

1 Jun 2006

Wireless operators in Ireland should be prepared to exploit the large amount of wireless spectrum available to drive future digital information and entertainment services, the chair of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), Isolde Goggin told siliconrepublic.com. She confirmed that O2 will be first to trial the DVB/H mobile TV spectrum which will soon be made available on an all-island basis.

Yesterday ComReg hosted an OECD workshop on spectrum management, attended by regulators from all over the world.

Speaking ahead of the conference to siliconrepublic.com Goggin said that the potential for wireless spectrum beyond existing mobile and broadcast networks in Ireland is strong and ComReg is encouraging companies to trial services on various frequencies.

The DVB/H (digital video broadcasting for handhelds) digital video broadcasting standard is of particular interest to mobile operators and operates in the 1778MHz and 1805MHz band where GSM currently operates.

She said ComReg will be making the spectrum available in November and it will be technology and service neutral. Working with counterparts in Northern Ireland, it will be an all-island licence.

Goggin added that the potential for wireless spectrum is being overlooked in the argument around DSL broadband over copper and the debate around unbundling the local loop. “At least 30pc of broadband services in Ireland are accessed by means other than DSL,” she said.

“We would hope that Irish businesses and entrepreneurs factor spectrum into the equation. We would hope that by doing so we would build up infrastructure-based competition rather than have operators always reselling an incumbent’s infrastructure.”

She said ComReg is interested in talking to companies about giving them licenses to test services on wireless frequencies. “We want to move away from picking technology winners to technology and service neutral licensing. Previously it was all about command and control. This time you tell us what you want. As long as the frequency they want to use doesn’t interfere with existing services or emergency services, we will do our best to craft a licence for them.

“There is a lot of international attention focused on this area right now and there is some very valuable spectrum to be released. The US and countries in Europe will soon be making the switch from analogue to digital and there are some serious dividends to be realised,” Goggin said.

One of the core areas to be exploited is the field of mobile TV. She said that O2 is planning to trial DVB/M later this year. “This will make real broadcasting to mobile devices possible. Real programming, not just clips.”

On the question of WiMax, Goggin said that there are at least two companies close to deploying services on a fixed and mobile basis respectively. “I think 2008 will be the year that will see true convergence in Ireland in terms of triple and quad play services. And I don’t mean by just DSL and cable but some form of radio and that’s where new players ought to be focusing.”

Goggin added that Ireland has an abundance of available wireless spectrum being an island country with only one land border. “We are in a fairly advantageous position when it comes to spectrum. Germany, for example, has 10 land borders so there’s a lot of co-ordination with neighbours over frequency. We have one land border, a low population density and we are not a member of NATO.”

Speaking at yesterday’s conference was the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Noel Dempsey TD, who said that accountability and transparency in the use of spectrum is essential.

Referring to the digital terrestrial television (DTT) trial, which is currently in build phase, Dempsey said the pilot should be seen as a precursor to the full national rollout of DTT.

On the allocation of radio spectrum, Dempsey said: “Economists believe that establishing a market for radio spectrum is the most efficient way to allocate the resource. But please note economics is the only field in which two people can get a Nobel Prize for saying exactly the opposite thing. While technological improvements are taking place, we cannot know precisely which specific new technologies will prove to be most valuable.

“If new technologies cannot find an efficient place in the spectrum or are not assigned any spectrum at all, there will be static losses of efficiencies. This may have a dampening effect on the whole incentive to innovate. This is a key point about spectrum: it is a tremendous natural resource. If not used properly it has the possibility of acting as a ‘bottleneck’ inhibiting innovation and growth,” Dempsey said.

The Minister added on the subject of allowing companies test spectrum: “The ability to give researchers access to spectrum is a valuable tool. The intention is to attract investment as well as create opportunities for local companies. We have also broken the stagnation of the delivery of wireless broadband services by licensing small players on a base station by base station basis, another fairly unique method that we pioneered in Ireland.

“The regulator is currently conducting a spectrum review to identify and make currently unused spectrum available for licensing in the next few years,” the Minister said.

By John Kennedy