The Ministry of Defence is offering shared access to some significant chunks of radio spectrum, though only until 2015 when it expects to sell it off properly.
The chunks up for sharing include 80MHz of spectrum starting at 3500MHz, and 70MHz counting from 3410MHz. But not anywhere near the Olympics, and users will be expected to pay for the bands, and they should be ready to clear out before the new owners move in come 2015.
The last stipulation should stop anyone investing significant resources into the bands. No one is going to build out infrastructure, offering wireless broadband or similar, when they know they can have the airwaves pulled from under them by the highest bidder when the spectrum finally hits the block.
Arqiva, which manages radio networks for just about everyone in the UK, has even put out a statement applauding the idea, but taking issue with the details: "Releasing spectrum on a short term lease ... won't allow operators to take advantage of it now. They won't be able to see a return on their network investment."
But the bands will be available for trials and testing, which is probably what the MoD has in mind. These days the Ministry is being asked to pay an annual fee for the huge swathes of radio spectrum allocated to it, the idea being to encourage careful consideration of its spectrum requirements. That has already prompted the auction schedule, but the bands aren't expected to be completely cleared until 2015 so can't be nationally licensed until then.
So anyone who fancies using the bands ahead of time should drop the MoD a line saying where and when, and might like to take a look at some of the other bands the UK military is thinking about sharing, ahead of flogging them off.
There are a couple of 2MHz bands at 870MHz and 915MHz, and a larger block (25MHz) at 1427MHz as well as progressively-bigger chunks around 2GHz, 5GHz and 10GHz. The MoD isn't sure if there's enough interest to share those blocks, so if you're interested be sure to drop them a line before December 16.
The problem with all these bands is finding kit which will operate on them, and at a cost-effective price. Of the bands being looked at by the MoD, only 3500MHz is internationally harmonised (for European broadband), so there's little incentive for manufacturers to make radios operating in any of the other bands, which in turn makes exploiting them an expensive proposition – especially if you're going to get moved on in three years. ®