UK Telecoms set for vibrant 2012

27 th April, 2012
Frustrated by living in a rural location with low broadband connectivity speeds, Shrewsbury-based businessman and chartered engineer, Chris Davies, decided a wireless local loop was needed to connect the hardwired, black-fibre national telecommunications backbone to his business . His aim? To transfer data-heavy design files for his electronics O .E .M ., Logical Technologies (UK) Ltd ., where he is managing director .

A need for more broadband, local loop connectivity in rural and semi rural UK is part of today's telecoms business environment . Local loops are one part of the hardwire and wireless telecommunications system connecting individuals worldwide . Satellites, microwave towers, hardwiring by cable on land, underwater cables, optical fibres, switching for analogue, digital transmission and control, frequency divisions, and efficient use of the electromagnetic spectrum, and of bandwidth over hard wiring, as well as software control, are among other elements .

Can an S .M .E . still start up in this telecoms market? "Yes," says business angel, Steve McEwen, from Beer and Partners, a firm of business angels headquartered in London, and working nationally, "it is no harder to raise investment for telecoms than for other sectors ."

Not all customers will be as proactive as Mr Davies. He made contact with local telecoms S .M .E, Unitron Systems and Development Ltd ., which has had a data centre connected to leased black-fibre cable since 2004 . Mr Davies then invested £2000 .00, erected a telegraph pole to support microwave relay and distribution equipment, and dug the trench to supply the pole with power . The height of the tower was below the level triggering planning permission applications .

Unitron works with the UK's 5 .8 Ghz public sector bandwidth, accessible to anyone .To keep the communication as far from interference as possible Unitron also applies to Ofcom for band-C licences .

With the additional infrastructure erected by Chris Davies Unitron provided a local wireless loop, and Mr Davies now has access to 30 Mbs download and 10 Mbs upload in a bespoke service . Before Unitron supplied Mr Davies with high-speed wireless internet connectivity he was limited to 1 .8 Mbs download and 400 Kbs upload .

Unitron's plans, says director, John Shaw, are to provide Shropshire with rural broadband services, and then to expand nationally . He and his colleagues came to the world of wireless, broadband internet provision with an amateur radio background .

The link they provide works for customers with a line of site to the microwave relay, and within a 10-mile radius .

Many opportunities exist around the black-fibre broadband distribution network, says Mr McEwen, who is working on a £3-million deal in the Midlands . He was reticent about detail but said he is concentrating on operational due-diligence, and is interested particularly by export potential to The Philippines and Poland .

Not all business investment angels like to be named . Speaking unattributively another "angel" from a large firm said, "Each case is specific .I'd ask a telecoms S .M .E . how they are working with mobile, voice-over-the-internet and social media . I'd want to know their own infrastructure costs, have they got the best deal, who is in control? Does the managing director, for example, spend three hours a month on oversight, less or more?"

Telcoms is heavily regulated, high tech . and backed by political and investor will, nationally and internationally . There is room for growth . But it is fast paced technologically, with a morphing regulatory environment . The most recent international consultations were in January and February (2012) at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which met in Geneva . On the agenda, discussion of how to split and manage radio frequencies for maritime and aeronautical transport, and for science related to the environment, meteorology, climatology, disaster prediction, mitigation and relief . Management of satellite orbital slots, the introduction of mobile broadband, and use of freed bandwidth resulting from the switch over to digital TV, the so-called digital dividend, and the development of Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV) were also slated for discussion .

It takes time for output from such meetings to filter through international and national political systems, but in the UK the relevant government department currently is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) . Primary legislation controlling wireless is the Wireless Telegraphy Act (2006) .

Ofcom is the independent regulator, responsible for both hardwire and wireless . Its legal standing comes from the Communications Act (2003), and it has obligations under the Digital Economies Act (2010) . DCMS is Ofcom's parent department . Intellectual Property disputes in telecoms would be heard in the Chancery division of the High Court, and legal disagreement with a government decision could be pursued via judicial review .

In wireless communications the biggest issue on the regulator's desk in 2012 is how to auction later this year the digital dividend, namely the 800 megahertz band of spectrum currently used for analogue broadcasting . Decisions are expected this summer . That auction is for the right to operate at those frequencies, and is aimed at wholesalers . Where wholesalers swim, there are pilot fish .

Politically, for both wireless and fixed connections, the UK is already working within the European Commission's digital agenda . The targets set by the EC are access to basic broadband for every European by 2013, and to ultra fast broadband by 2020 .

Market research on line via the EU's Digital agenda website covers until the end of 2010, and shows the UK with almost complete DSL coverage . DSL stands for digital subscriber line, and is part of the fixed network infrastructure . Fixed broadband take-up in the UK at the beginning of 2011 was 32 per cent, with 80 per cent of households connected to the internet and 88 per cent of businesses .
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