consumers have a real problem even if carriers are telling porkies
"though quite what customers are going to do with that spectrum isn't clear."
It's pretty obvious what they'll do with it. The move to smartphones in itself wont suck another 500Mhz but when data's cheap, smartphone users love streaming AV. Just streaming music instead of using analogue radio will hammer available bandwidth. It's hard to believe the networks want to sell cheap data though, more something they'll be forced into, kicking and screaming the whole way.
Do we actually need more bandwidth? Right now, as an unfortunate O2 user (via giffgaff) I regularly see full HDSPA connections that deliver sub GPRS throughput in the city and voice connections so rate throttled conversation is near impossible. More bandwidth is desperately needed just to deliver usable service at todays rated speeds - because in some places building enough repeaters or new towers just isn't viable.
For consumers this isn't about pumping ever higher headline rates, it's about delivering the speeds our hardware should already be getting. I'm sure the networks plan to sell any extra bandwidth they get as a higher speed, higher profit service but there's still a real problem to solve. The regulator needs to be heavy handed about what carriers get to do with anything they're given though.