Governments across Europe are gaining huge windfalls by auctioning frequency bands for use by telecommunications companies for Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), (3G licences). The UK government obtained pound;22.47bn, equivalent to more than pound;350 per head for every man, woman and child in the UK. These frequencies were previously used by other businesses who are now having to move elsewhere. The windfall for the Government means that they can pay off some of the national debt, and for us it means we can have Internet access and maybe even video on the moveI but at what price?
The Government has realised that the frequencies are very valuable and it will look at the whole spectrum of to see if it can make more money (on our behalf of course). So why am I concerned?
Some of the spectrum is available free for low power transmissions. Schools are making significant usage and investment in these frequencies for use in wireless Local Area Networks (LAN) and for point-to-point connections for wireless Wide Area Networks (WAN).
These frequencies are available to all and have few safeguards. The frequencies can be used by anyone as long as they do not make a charge for the service. This "safeguard" plays right into the new "Internet economic model". Therefore an enterprising company may decide to use the frequencies to "broadcast" a local community service paid for by advertising. This could interfere with the LAN and WAN services used by the schools rendering the investment useless.
This Government's mantra has been education, education, education and it has significantly increased funding, as well as appointing, for the first time, a minister with specific responsibility for information and communications technology. What we need is joinedup thinking among the government departments.
The Government could have reserved some of the spectrum for the exclusive use of public education services such as schools, libraries and museums. It could have used some of the money from the frequency auction to provide a wireless network that connected up every school, library and museum in the UK with a 10Mb per second connection to the Internet.
A 10Mb per second Internet connection is 150 times faster than most schools have at the moment. It would enable schools to receive full-screen video and video-conferencing, participate in live online discussions, gain access to interactive learning materials and, above all, faster access to the Internet for more users.
Schools are rightly concerned about the running costs of broadband Internet access. A real advantage of using wireless connections is that once they are installed they have much lower running costs than most other connections technologies.
An outline of the major costs is shown below. As can be seen at a set-up cost of some pound;10,000 per institution and pound;3,200 per annum, this is affordable for UK education and is a fraction of the cost of some current broadband connection services.
Pupils and their parents are starting to demand fast, reliable access to multimedia resources. We have the technology to deliver it, we have the funding to deliver it; anything else would be a second-class service.
Tim Clark is RM's business development manager
Description Quantity Set up Annual
UK Backbone 2.5Gbits pound;10m pound;25m
Regional networks 15 regions pound;30m pound;7.5m
Local connectivity 25,000 schools pound;200m pound;25m
International bandwidth 1Gbits pound;10m
Management and support 25,000 pound;12.5 pound;10m
Total pound;252.5m pound;77.5m