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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

16 bidders in the Ofcom low-power GSM auction

There's been surprisingly little coverage or analysis of the ongoing Ofcom spectrum auction in the UK.

The auction is for "thin" low-power 1800MHz GSM spectrum licences, which could enable deployment of some innovative business models, using technologies like picocells for indoor cellular services, along with normal low-cost handsets. There could be as many as 12 new operators as a result of the process.

In fact, 16 companies have announced an intention to bid. They're listed here. The actual award process itself is fairly protracted, with the actual licences not expected to be issued until mid-May.

I haven't had a chance to really dig deeply into all of the companies bidding - and some appear to be consortia with new company names, perhaps backed by companies or individuals wishing to stay out of the limelight unless they get a licence. But this is a rapid analysis of who's who.

The UK's largest fixed-only operators are here, none of which is a big surprise - BT, C&W, Colt, ntl. All would like probably spectrum to offer triple/quad-play services without relying on MVNO deals & other companies' spectrum, and all are probably looking at a combination of corporate, residential and wholesale applications.

O2 and Orange are represented - interesting, as both already have a fair amount of GSM capacity available. I can think of a few reasons why they might want some more, however, especially for use in "ring fenced" applications.

Centric Telecom is a newish business-focused telecom and broadband service provider, which has an eye on "landlord services" and so could be looking at in-building coverage as a service opportunity. It quotes a lot of financial and property sector "partners" on its site.

It's not immediately clear who Cyberpress Ltd is. Interestingly, it appears on the Pipex CEO's list of current directorships, though.

FMS Solutions describes itself on one of its Ofcom filings as "a small specialist company, aligned to public mobile networks, providing managed telecoms services and innovative Private GSM solutions." It's an arm of a company (Field Measurement Services) that does various wireless-related services, and which also supplies assorted niche GSM-related bits of equipment. According to this article it's looking to deploy GSM services for emergency services. And it's based in Thatcham near Newbury - home of Vodafone, which may be a complete coincidence.

Mapesbury Communications' website is here. It appears to be involved in various WiFi, VoIP and related activities, including deals with Texaco petrol stations and various hotels. It "provisions" some of T-Mobile's hotspots, which may give a clue to where it might put any future picocellular infrastructure.

Opal Telecom is corporate-focused division of Carphone Warehouse, interestingly. Given that CPW is already an MVNO (Fresh), and a landline telecom operator & broadband reseller (TalkTalk), it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that it's interested in some GSM spectrum as well - although whether its major operator partners view it the same way will be interesting to watch.

PLDT UK is an odd one here. It's a division of Phillipines operator PLDT, which owns mobile firm SMART. Mentioned on this page , it seems to be part of the group "focused on providing Pinoys abroad only the best telecommunication products and services currently available in the market" . It seems to specialise in overseas calling cards, as well as some call centre and bandwidth services. This page perhaps indicates its interest is in using GSM cellphones for international calling.

Shyam Telecom is an Indian company I've met before at In-Building Wireless conferences. It makes things like distributed antenna systems. According to this page, its parent company also owns a division that offers cellular services in the Indian province of Rajasthan

Spring Mobil is perhaps an unsurprising bidder. It operates an existing in-building low-power GSM service in Sweden and so rolling out similar services in the UK probably makes sense. (Another company doing something similar in Switzerland, In&Phone, isn't bidding, though).

TeleWare is another enterprise-focused UK communication service provider. It seems to focus on PBX and hosted-telephony solutions, including its own SIP-based switching platform called intelligent eXchange and various value-add modular applications.

Zynetix is a company I know quite well, and which like FMS has been involved in lobbying Ofcom for the auction in the first place. It makes small GSM softswitches for various applications, including FMC and network in-fill applications.

All things considered, it looks like the UK should be getting a pretty good selection of innovative GSM business models once the auctions are concluded. Definitely an area to watch out for - and which I suspect other regulators will be closely scrutinising.


Unknown said...

Its odd that Coffee Telecom isn't on the list. I recall them making a lot of noise about bidding for the auction when it was first proposed.

Peter Judge said...

I understand Coffee Telecom is involved in one of the 16 bids, but Martin Wren-Hilton won't say which.

Anonymous said...

for those of you who know martin wren-hilton, he is also the founder of Zynetix--funny--they are also a bidder. who their backer is another question?

Anonymous said...

Coffee Telecom has been acquired by Carphone Warhouse so Martin was part of the Carphone/Opal bid.

Anonymous said...

In the Netherlands the DECT guard band will be made license free for low power GSM. But how can the interference/coordination problem be managed? Talk with the neighbours or use technology DCS (dynamic channel selection)to solve the coordination problem?