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Qualcomm plots UK spectrum sell-off: Who will get a mobile broadband speed boost?

Qualcomm plans to sell its 1.4GHz licence to UK networks, which could result in customers getting a free speed boost. 

The European Commission recently voted for the release of the so-called L-Band (1452-1492 MHz) spectrum throughout the EU to be used for something called Supplemental Downlink (SDL) technology. 

SDL is something Qualcomm’s been working on with Orange and Ericsson and it basically means faster download speeds when you’re using 4G and HSPA+ services. 

While EE is keen to publish headline-grabbing top speeds possible on its 4G network, networks will still want to bolster their HSPA+ services. Qualcomm says SDL will help deliver things like video content and faster app downloads as well as providing a smoother overall browsing experience.  

A Qualcomm spokesperson said: “SDL will enable more downlink centric services, such as video on-demand, to be delivered seamlessly to mobile devices over a cellular data connection, even as data traffic levels continue to increase. 

“Qualcomm believes that L-Band brings significant benefits to UK consumers. Qualcomm aim is to have the UK among the leading countries globally to deploy this wireless innovation.” 

The next question is, how much is Qualcomm selling its licence for and who will likely make them an offer? At the time of writing, none of the networks had responded to our requests.  

If Three and O2 merge and BT absorbs EE, Vodafone faces becoming the smallest network in the UK. A stronger HSPA+ network could improve services for customers who can’t yet get a 4G service because it’s not available, as demonstrated by the most recent RootMetrics report

Ofcom wants all UK networks to reach at least 98 per cent of the British population with 4G by 2017. EE is currently closest to hitting that target, helped largely by the fact that it was given a headstart on the others. 

Vodafone, which plans to launch a fixed-line broadband and phone service later this year, could bid for Qualcomm’s licence to strengthen its mobile offering, which could give it an edge over a BT-owned EE. Equally, Three may want to shell out for the spectrum to bolster its already impressive non-4G browsing experience

Qualcomm hasn’t indicated when it may be ready to sell its 1.4GHz licence. Ofcom wants to begin its second 4G auction – for licences in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands – either at the end of this year or early 2016 at the latest. 

Update: This piece was amended to clarify that SDL could see 4G download speeds boosted as well as HSPA+. 

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