Move to end UK broadband access row

Mobile phone operators have been summoned to a meeting on Thursday with Lord Carter, the communications minister, in an effort to solve a row which is threatening to derail plans for all homes to have broadband internet access by 2012.

Kip Meek, a former senior official at Ofcom, the telecoms regulator, has been chosen by the government to oversee efforts to solve the mobile operators' dispute over radio spectrum.

He will have the task of trying to find a compromise between the operators by the end of April.

The heads of three of the UK's five network operators are due to attend Thursday's meeting.

They are Guy Laurence of Vodafone, Jim Hyde of T-Mobile, and Kevin Russell of 3. O2 and Orange are also sending representatives, and Ed Richards, Ofcom's chief executive, will attend.

When publishing plans to strengthen the telecoms and media industries last month, Lord Carter said the government would support an "imposed solution" to the spectrum dispute if an industry-led compromise were not agreed within three months.

The government's plans for universal broadband are premised on the mobile operators providing wireless internet access in remote areas, where it is too expensive to provide fixed-line broadband.

However, the mobile operators will not be able to provide wireless broadband on a nationwide basis until they resolve their dispute.

If an industry-led compromise is not reached, the government is likely to impose a solution based on a proposal due from Ofcom soon.

O2 and Vodafone strongly objected to a previous Ofcom proposal, in 2007, for them to give up some of their most valuable spectrum so that it could be sold off to rivals in an auction.

The two operators would not have received compensation, while the regulator did not say that Orange and T-Mobile should give up some of their spectrum.

Industry insiders said that they expected an industry-led compromise to involve O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile trading some of their spectrum used for second generation mobile services such as phone calls and text messaging. 3, the fifth network operator, does not have any 2G spectrum.

Ofcom's 2007 proposal was focused on the 900 MegaHertz spectrum held by O2 and Vodafone.

It is attractive because wireless signals travel long distances on it, which means that mobile operators can save money because they have to erect fewer towers and base stations compared with other spectrum.

This 900MHz spectrum is, therefore, ideally suited for supplying wireless internet access to people in remote areas.

Industry insiders said an industry-led compromise might involve O2 and Vodafone selling some of their 900MHz spectrum to rivals. In return, O2 and Vodafone could buy 1800MHz spectrum held by Orange and T-Mobile.

This 1800MHz spectrum is well suited to improving network coverage in urban areas where there are large numbers of people using mobiles and laptops for wireless internet access.

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