One of the biggest telecom events in 2008 is slated to occur just six weeks from now. Starting on January 24, both telcos and Internet companies will be able to place their bids on blocks of the 700-MHz spectrum, which are scheduled to be vacated by incumbent UHF television broadcasters in February 2009.
The auction has garnered a significant amount of attention because the U.S. Federal Communications Commission attached open-access rules to the so-called "C block" spectrum, a valuable chunk of spectrum whose reserve price has been set at US$4.6 billion. Under these rules, the spectrum's licensees are prohibited from blocking or slowing Internet traffic from their competitors, and must also allow any devices to connect to their network.
Already, some telcos and Web companies have announced their plans to bid on the spectrum. (See related timeline of events.) The name that's generating the most buzz so far is Google, which pledged last month to "put our money where our principles are" and bid on the spectrum to give consumers "more competition and innovation than they have in today's wireless world." Google has long been a champion of open-access networks, and the company lobbied the FCC hard to slap open-access rules on portions of the spectrum up for auction.
But while Google certainly has the money to win large chunks of spectrum in the upcoming auction, analysts and wireless entrepreneurs say that developing applications and services for the spectrum will likely be a lengthy and expensive process that won't yield marketable products for years to come.