European WiMAX-3G spectrum war brewing

European mobile phone companies, chip makers, and manufacturers of wireless networks are engaged in a hot debate over how limited amounts of radio frequencies should be used for the purpose of transmitting data from the Internet to mobile devices and back. These decisions are typically made by governments, and in the case of the European Union, by the EU authorities. This is why Craig Barrett, Intel's chairman, is in Brussels this week: He will meet with EU officials to call for technology neutrality on the issue. Intel wants to ensure that as decisions are made, WiMAX will not suffer.

Most European governments have designating the 3.4 to 3.5 GHz spectrum for WiMAX operators, but these operators, and Intel, say that the band is not enough, and especially insufficient to make sure that an Internet connection does not drop when a customer moves from the coverage area of one antenna to another, a feature essential to ensure mobile communication. These operators say that to guarantee trouble-free hand off to their customers, they must be able to use the part of the radio spectrum of 2.3 to 2.5 GHz. The problem: Many European governments have already set this portion of the band aside for mobile phone companies, in case the latter would require added spectrum to improve their 3G networks.

Patrick Cruise O'Brien, secretary general of the WiMAX Spectrum Owners' Alliance, does not mince words: "The lower frequencies that will make WiMAX mobile are the holy grail," he said. "It would be detrimental to the future of European WiMAX if the mobile frequencies were handed over to the 3G operators," and "WiMax will only really matter in Europe if it is mobile."

For more on the state of WiMAX-3G play in Europe:
- see Eric Sylvers's International Herald Tribune discussion

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