US chipmaker Qualcomm is reported to be looking for a buyer of its L-band spectrum holdings in the UK in response to regulatory changes allowing operators to use these airwaves to support mobile broadband services.
Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is the only L-band licensee in the UK, having paid £8.334 million ($12.8 million) for all 40MHz of spectrum in the 1452-1492MHz range in 2008.
The L-band has not previously been available to operators but in May the European Commission decided to open it up for use with mobile broadband services.
Under new rules, operators will be able to use the L-band to support downlink-only broadband connections through a technology called supplemental downlinks (SDL), which is a feature of both 3G and 4G standards.
Qualcomm appears keen to sell the UK frequencies amid soaring adoption of high-speed data services, according to Reuters.
"Qualcomm UK Spectrum (QUKS), Qualcomm's subsidiary that owns L-band spectrum rights in the UK, plans to trade this spectrum," said the chipmaker in a statement seen by Reuters.
The frequencies are bound to interest the UK's mobile network operators, all of which are looking for ways of coping with the growing volumes of traffic on 3G and 4G networks.
In May, UK regulatory authority Ofcom launched a consultation on the award of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz frequency bands, indicating that some licenses could be made available by the end of this year depending on the feedback it receives.
Operators will also be anticipating an auction of spectrum in the 700MHz band that is currently used by the broadcasting sector, but this seems unlikely to become available for several years.
While authorities in Germany are currently holding an auction of 700MHz spectrum, and France's regulator expects to follow suit later this year, Ofcom has previously said that 700MHz licenses will not come into effect until 2020 at the earliest. (See German Spectrum Auction Bidding Hits $2.2B and 700MHz: Coming soon to Germany.)
Qualcomm's L-band airwaves, therefore, could offer service providers a short-term alternative.
The chipmaker has not indicated whether it is in talks with any particular service providers regarding the L-band airwaves.
The UK's mobile market is currently home to four mobile network operators -- EE , Telefónica UK Ltd. , Vodafone UK and Three UK -- but a planned merger between Telefónica and 3 would reduce the number of players. (See Telefónica Seals $15.2B O2 Sale to Hutchison.)
Moreover, fixed-line incumbent BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is hoping to complete a £12.5 billion ($19.2 billion) takeover of EE that could increase the pressure on the country's other mobile service providers. (See BT Locks Down £12.5B EE Takeover Deal.)
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading