LTE: Bidding for spectrum not high on BT's priority list, for now

The announcement that the UK government is preparing to auction spectrum suitable for LTE has uncovered some unexpected interest. The UK fixed line incumbent BT, which sold its cellular business years ago, has admitted to be observing proceedings.

The company's CEO, Ian Livingston, confirmed BT would have a look at the proposed spectrum auction, "but it's not high on the agenda." He added that BT was more focused on improving customer services and processes, further cost cutting and investing for the future.

Downplaying BT's interest levels even further (perhaps too much), Livingston said that, as long as the company had access to mobile networks (it has an MVNO deal with Vodafone), then "I would think it's low down on the list of likely things. Of course you'd want to have a look at the terms and conditions of these things."

However, the UK government might welcome BT's active involvement given that the number of UK cellular networks is slowly decreasing as Orange and T-Mobile, and Vodafone and O2 push forward with their network sharing agreements.

Having only two bidders could fail to maximise the money raised from the auction, and the government has instructed the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, to assess likely future competition in mobile markets, before and after the auction.

Industry analysts claim that BT has a history of interfering in spectrum auctions, and has conducted trials of wireless broadband to provide rural coverage. More recently, it agreed to a deal with Arqiva to provide "long range radio" specifically for the national smart meter project, having rejected GPRS.

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