back to article Why there will never be another GSM

Ofcom is changing the way spectrum is licensed in the UK to remove usage restrictions, but the EU is calling for region-wide harmonisation of use to create economies of scale. These diverse approaches are going to lead to an unavoidable clash of ideologies that could mean the success of GSM is never repeated. Great chunks of …


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  1. Mage Silver badge


    There needs to be flexibility to change, but cognitve / SD radio is still largely a pipe dream. Total flexibility will kill innovation and penalise the consumer.

    EU is right & Ofcom/Comreg wrong on this.

  2. Daniel
    Thumb Down

    So if I understand this correctly ...

    ... the result will be that Whatever Enterprises, owned by media mogul Sir Joseph Cashbags, will just buy MW band and whatever else he can grab, and sit on it, doing what the hell he likes. If he wants to turn FM radio into, say, a band for use in his experimental guinea pig homing project for a few years, or rent it to friend and fellow tycoon Maxwell Rippermorf (for as long as they happen to be friends, anyhow) nothing you can do it.

    Great idea guys. Genius.

  3. Andrew Heenan
    Thumb Down

    Giving Away The Golden Goose?

    "These will be perpetual licences which can be sold on or sub-let to other users."

    I cannot imagine a more stupid proposal for a fast-changing market. Who knows what the future will bring? How can it be sensible to give control in perpetuity to a commercial enterprise?

    What sane government sells a source of income that could keep the country afloat?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Ofcom are supposed to be managing the spectrum on our behalf. Moving from a licence based system to a "buy once - use forever" based system is bad news for us as it will enshrine the existing occupiers of that spectrum.

    Are Ofcom trying to put themselves out of the picture ? Allowing the fixed amount of spectrum to be permanently allocated will not allow for future technology to create more space, or at least that extra space will then be "owned" by private concerns.

    Why do govt. created organisations always think they own the facilities they are there to manage, rather than act on OUR behalf as they should ?

    This is equivalent to granting eternal copyright, or everlasting patents, and should be stopped.

  5. pctechxp

    The end of International roaming?

    Think we're going to end up with a situation like the states used to be where mobiles used here wont work abroad.

  6. John Murgatroyd

    So. What's new ?

    Meanwhile, other users have to tolerate the interference from a multitude of high-strength-low-quality transmissions from "industry" users managing the spectrum for profit. Ofcom was never about spectrum management but always about spectrum retail development. It always will be. Not that the EU is any better.

    Large broadcasters = better

    Small broadcasters = no money = goodbye.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad Ofcom

    "the shorter the range, the greater the power needed for transmission"

    ... are you sure, sounds completely the wrong way round to me!

    and I agree we should be renting the spectrum not selling it! And making sure it's used in a way which benefits the public, not just creating new private industry monopolies of a public resource!

  9. Jasmine Strong


    ...there are several UMTS-TDD services in operation in the UK.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    It's much WORSE than that

    "it's not secured the public trust as yet."

    Oh, Ha Ha Ha.

    Not only has it not secured public trust, but it has demonstrated to the public its general and total incompetence.

    It has completely and utterly failed to even TRY to stamp out very obvious abuse such as broadband suppliers mis-selling severely limited broadband services and misrepresenting them as "unlimited". Could there be any greater public demonstration of incompetence than to continually turn a blind eye to an offence as self-evident as black being described as white, even despite very obvious complaints about it.

    It has also watered down what could and should have been a very severe limitation of 0870 to make no significant improvement and has failed to do anything about the timewasting and expense caused by call queing and voiceprompt annoyances, both of which could easily be brought under control by prohibiting their use on anything other than on genuine freephone numbers, free to both landlines and mobiles.

    Its high time we had a referendum, subject "The general British public has no confidence in OfCom and requires it to be replaced by a publicly elected and publicly accountable body". Though its entirely self-evident what the result of such a referendum would be.

  11. Roger Moore

    Re: Giving Away The Golden Goose?

    "How can it be sensible to give control in perpetuity to a commercial enterprise?"

    While I agree that this is not the most sensible suggestion you do have to remember that "perpetuity" just means "until the government changes it mind" which probably means not that long if you are not actually using the spectrum for something popular.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    £20Bn for the 3G killed it dead

    I remember thinking £20Bn paid for those 3G licence was going to kill it

    The stories about multi thousands pound phone bills from vodaphone for using said data service (with hilarious advice not to) would seem to confirm that point of view

    Who after that bullshit storm would offer Europe and especially the UK any head start?

    Spectrum sold as what it is is all we can do now.

    The only thing you can say is no kiddie porn, no prescription drugs, no state secrets

    Talk about paint and corners

    But even the FCC had to have its litigious collar pulled in to allow sat radio in the states

    In summary China will decide and $100+ a barrel will choose

  13. Roger Heathcote

    Flexibility yes...

    Perpetuity no. Tying frequency to purpose is in most cases outdated thinking* IMHO. Leasing spectrum would retain public ownership (as it should be) and still create a market tradable commodity (like physical property leases).

    *Having said that I think we should leave FM radio well alone, tellys can be converted to digital but radios can't. Think of the mountain of landfill we're going to create overnight. Plus, I love London's pirate radio scene ;-)

    Roger Heathcote

  14. Edward Hull

    @ Andrew Heenan

    with regards to your comment about "What sane government sells a source of income that could keep the country afloat?" I'd like to point out that the UK seems pretty much unique in viewpoint to see spectrum as something which can be sold, the rest of the world seeing it as something belonging to everyone that merely needs management. Charging for licenses bad.

  15. mr.K

    What am I not getting here?

    I thought it didn't really matter how good a standard was, but what’s important is that there is a standard. GMS wouldn't exist at all if they didn't make it a standard all over Europe.

    Roger Heathcote writes a few posts above here:

    "Tying frequency to purpose is in most cases outdated thinking."

    To my knowledge it is next to impossible to design hardware without knowing which frequency it is going to use. I don't know how it works today, but most GSM phones didn't earlier have the ability to work both in Europe and USA. The only way they make a phone work both places is to have two transmitters in it, one for each band. If you take that regulation away all equipment will end up costing way more since you, either have to make it specific for the country or even city that the consumer lives in, or have to smack loads of additional circuitry inside it to cope with the different frequencies it has to operate on.

    The worst part however is that a company may at any given time render your gadget useless since they can decide independently that will change the use of their spectrum to some new gadget.

    Since I am pro regulation, regulations goes against the free market and the opposite of the free market is communism, I'll get my red coat.

  16. Luther Blissett

    Control in perpetuity

    Andrew Heenan > "How can it be sensible to give control in perpetuity to a commercial enterprise?"

    Roger Moore > While I agree that this is not the most sensible suggestion you do have to remember that "perpetuity" just means "until the government changes it mind" which probably means not that long if you are not actually using the spectrum for something popular.

    Control in perpetuity of the money supply through the provision of credit was given away by the US government to a private company through the Federal Reserve System in 1913, and by the UK government to a private company through the Bank of England some 200 years previous to that. A monopoly like that would be worth killing for to protect, you might think, and you would be right.

    The rest, as they say, is history... (and when you read it, forget about goodies and baddies, us and them, west and east, liberal and fascist ideologies, and just follow the money).

    Except that very recently the kite has come off the string, due to the sub-licensees grandiose ideas for exploiting their "resources" in a way which neither the monopoly licensees nor the governments could comprehend nor control. Which bring us to the present. None of these "broadcasters" wants to trade "content" with the others for fear of buying worthless "noise".

    Ofcom's proposal seems so very 20th century. It would be laughable except that there are people who would take them seriously. People like nu labour for example.

  17. Roger Heathcote


    It IS outdated thinking in MOST cases. Come up with some killer apps we don't already have some spectrum for and I'd consider ringfencing some spectrum for them, but unless you've got something more useful than what we've now got i.e. DAB, DTV, voice & general purpose wireless ip networking) then I see no point restricting what spectrum can be used for.

    MrK - "The worst part however is that a company may at any given time render your gadget useless since they can decide independently that will change the use of their spectrum to some new gadget."

    Yes that would suck, like the government deciding to turn off FM, which is why we would do well to allocate a good chunk of this spectrum to the aforementioned general purpose IP networking and maybe the government should maintain a bit for a state backed ip multicating system.

    Don't think I'm not pro regulation BTW, there's many industries that need regulating inside out. Applying regulations evenly accross a healthy market doesn't stop it being meaningfully 'free', allowing monopolies and oligopolies and enormous inbalances of power does that. The so called 'free marketeers' you read about are nothing of the sort - Adam Smith would puke if he met the 'Adam Smith Institute' or 'The Competition Commission'

  18. Andy Worth

    "military" band

    What Ofcom have to remember, when demanding back the military bands, is that the military have more guns than they do :)

  19. alistair millington
    Thumb Down

    @Andy Worth

    The miltary do indeed have more guns,

    For now.

    This government (underfunding, completely not knowing what they are on about.) and EU legislation (Tanks have to submit to the EU guidelines on gases) will mean we won't for long. so Ofcom in a few years might win that fight.

    Ofcom like all other quango's are pointless wastes of tax payers money. But so is parliament, I am with jeremy clarkson on this.

  20. Geoff Spick

    Soft radios

    Have the authors of the report (and members of OFCOM) recently purchased massive amounts of stock in companies developing those software radios that can be programmed to do anything with data from any channel?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Radio microphones

    As You may have read. We of the "Luvvies" brigade are still under the threat of losing our Radio Microphone frequencies or worse still, having the licence fee jacked up to some astronomical amount(Imagine a plumber having to pay £1000 per year, per wrench!). TV is freelancerised these days with individuals owning their own equipment, competition is strong and margins are small(Yeah I know.Boo-Hoo!). So it's not like in the past when the BBC or ITV would find a budget from somewhere to renew their fleet of radio mics.Don't believe all you hear about Techs earning big salaries either(more Boo-Hoo). So the appearance of Brucie with a mike with a cable is odds on!

    Talking of plumbing, any openings.......?i

  22. Claus P. Nielsen

    Software radios are a pipe dream

    Intel tries to sell the idea constantly, but has had very little success so far.

    The basic problem is that SW radios require that the underlying hardware is roughly an order of magnitude faster than what is required to implement the same radio directly in hardware.

    But then somebody thinks up a way to use this faster hardware to get even more performance.

    Buttom line is that SW radio is always implementing yesterdays technology, so in order for SW radio to succeed commercially the market must change so that either there is no longer a driver towards higher throughput (and/or smaller energy use) OR that it gets too expensive to implement all the different codexes/frequency ranges in HW.

    If you like conspiracy theories you may indeed wonder whether someone is pushing OFCOM in the direction it is taking in order for SW radios to become commercially viable.

  23. Anonymous Coward


    Your report seems to completely ignore radio amateurs, who now have lifetime licences to use lots of bands all over the place - from 175KHz to 40GHz+

    This is a vital market segment believe it or not - they're the people who first thought to use wireless for sending of pictures (TV); they thought of using satellites to relay radio signals; they're the ones who gave us FM. They're also the experts in efficient use of the spectrum (SSB vs AM anyone), and the ingenuity behind advances in radio technology.

    More than just some sad old gits yacking away as a hobby!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Yep this "luvvie" is a Ham too! 100Watt ssb radio Mic? Naaaaah!

    The icon is clearly a crossed out Mic!

  25. Paul Crawford Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Ofcom's problem

    Basically Ofcom have far too much faith in the 'free market' forces delivering good things for us, really Thatcher's children at play. Just take a look at US television to see how that works in practice...

    Some things do need more freedom, so an easy way of changing band use with permission is a good idea. A free for all, except in some limited de-regulated bands, most certainly is not.

    Incidentally, the success of GSM was not down to a gov department making up the correct technology. They allowed the 'market' to come up with the technical solution, but mandated that only one would be used. Unlike the USA where the much poorer VHS vs Betamax 'free market' process has resulted in incompatible handsets and worse service than EU (and most of the rest of the world).

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    RE: Amateurs

    Bollocks to the Radio Amateurs! A very silly hobby indeed. 73's

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    just so! 88's

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spectrum Sales?

    I really don't understand this.... I have an original 16k Dead-Flesh one.... will the Govt. have any say over the sale of that one?

    Sorry. It had to be done.......

  29. AB
    Thumb Up

    Great article

    Well researched and well written IMO

    Completely makes up for that silly N95 maps article, really ;-)

    All snide comments aside, the geek in me enjoyed reading this, even while fearing for the future of European roaming (you have to suspect that the chance for roaming revenue will act as a motivating factor to keep the possibility alive)

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