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GSMA attacks EC spectrum plans

Plans to make parts of the 3G spectrum available to other technologies have been criticised by the GSM Association (GSMA).

The lobby group’s ire has been directed at proposals by the European Commission to free up so-called ‘extension bands’ which have, thus far, been reserved for 3G technologies. The group believes the plans will damage emerging markets.

The 2.5-2.690 GHz band lends itself to high bandwidth applications – precisely the same promise 3G offers – and is ideal for WiMax.

The Association reacted to current proposals to shake-up the way radio spectrum is allocated. Historically, slices of bandwidth are allocated to specific technologies but the EC is known to favour keeping certain bands ‘neutral’. A layer of regulation protects those slices of spectrum from infringement by rival technologies. However, starting 2010, the voices in Europe could get their way and the situation could change depending on the result of a consultation launched by EU Information Society Commissioner, Viviane Reding.

The Commissioner intends to scrap the current provisioning system and at the same time replace the current local regulatory bodies with a single EU super regulator.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, supporters of WiMax have rejected the lobby group’s argument too, countering that the spectrum should remain neutral.

But the GSMA inisists that by allocating different and potentially competing technologies to a single band will make it more difficult and thus expensive, to develop and produce equipment.

In a note to telecoms.com, a spokesman for the GSMA said: “European countries were all allocated the same spectrum bands for GSM and that created major economies of scale for manufacturers of GSM handsets and network equipment. It is much more efficient for a manufacturer to produce a single version of a GSM phone, that can be used right across Europe, than it would be to produce different versions of the same phone, each adapted to be compatible with the spectrum bands used in individual countries.

“If the extension bands are used for 3G in some European countries, but not in others, it will be more difficult for manufacturers to generate similar economies of scale with these advanced 3G handsets.”

While the GSMA argues against the EC’s proposals, WiMax players like Urban WiMax have waded into the row, accusing the GSMA of acting in its own interests rather than that of the industry or the consumer. “The GSMA is basically being protectionist and understandably trying to use its power to protect its GSM operator members,” says Tom Foale, Business Development Director at Urban Wimax.

Foale believes the EU proposals should create a level playing field for technologies “perhaps demonstrating that GSM is not the best solution for existing or emerging markets if such vast scales are needed to provide economy.” He explains that “new generation technologies such as WiMAX make far more efficient use of the spectrum than older technologies such as GSM and 3G. In addition, the infrastructure costs of WiMAX are already far lower than 3G or GSM. The economies of scale that GSMA is attempting to protect are already built into new generation technologies such as WiMAX.”

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