Tough on the Frontline

The collapse of Frontline Wireless has added an element of uncertainty to the 700MHz spectrum auction, which kicks off in the US at the end of this month. Now that the only sure fire bidder for the swathe of spectrum reserved for public safety networks is out of the running, there is some doubt as to whether anyone will bid on the so called D-block.

Ironically, it was Frontline’s lobbying for a public-private partnership and support for open standards that helped shape the rules for Auction 73. But some believe that the FCC’s decision not to accept Frontline’s proposal that adopting wholesale, open access use for a portion of this spectrum, effectively weakened the attraction of the company’s business case and Frontline lost its financing.

This leaves the potential for a nationwide public safety network in the US hanging in the balance, especially as Frontline’s own estimations for such a buildout run close to $10bn and this particular swathe of spectrum has the most stringent licence requirements. But it also says a lot about the auction process itself. Frontline was backed by some big hitters, including former FCC chairman Reed Hundt, so if a company of this calibre can’t even make to the auction kick off, what hope have other start ups got?

The only prospective new entrant with a decent war chest is Google, so it seems likely that a good portion of the spectrum might go to existing players. Are the odds stacked against more competition in the US wireless market?

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