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Ofcom wants the industry to share more spectrum

Ofcom is keen to foster a culture of sharing in the UK telecoms market and as such has opened a consultation into proposed new spectrum sharing rules.

Mary Lennighan

November 24, 2023

2 Min Read

Buoyed by the success of its existing shared access framework, the UK regulator is seeking to introduce greater flexibility into the management of shared spectrum, thereby making more spectrum available, particularly in the “busiest” 3.8 GHz-4.2 GHz band, it says.

We’ve heard a lot over the years about spectrum being a finite resource, the lifeblood of the mobile industry, and so on, so it’s not surprising that Ofcom – and its peers elsewhere in the world – are anxious to develop different methods of sharing.

Ofcom reminds us that it introduced its shared access framework in 2019 and interest has been strong.

“We’ve issued more than 1,500 licences for this form of spectrum access and we expect that demand will continue to grow as a number of other countries adopt similar approaches,” Ofcom said.

New uses included rolling out 5G cameras to broadcast large events, monitoring and automation of logistics and industrial sites, and 5G-based fixed wireless access. The 3.8 GHz-4.2 GHz band proved most popular, with more than 500 of those 1,500-plus live licences being in that frequency range; the regulator has awarded a total of 2,059 shared access licences in the past four years, but some have been surrendered or revoked.

The rules were set at a time when there was limited experience across the industry of how new users sharing frequency bands would interact, when levels of demand were uncertain, and real-world information on coexistence between services was limited, Ofcom said. Hence the reason for an update now.

The proposed changes for the most part revolve around loosening restrictions on shared spectrum. For example, a key tenet of Ofcom’s proposal is shrinking separation distances between users of the frequencies by around 75% for low-power usage and 90% for medium power, with a view to working on further improvements in future. Basically, it’s about squeezing more users into the available spectrum.

It also proposes allowing an additional three decibels of equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) – a measure of power related to antennas – on its low power product to support wider coverage and reduce deployment challenges, especially in urban environments.

There are also proposals on removing requirements for users to maintain certain records for mobile terminals connected to low-power indoor base stations in the 3.8 GHz-4.2 GHz band, a move that would enable more neutral host solutions; and enabling neighbouring users across all shared access bands to collaborate on applications for new spectrum deployments and to work out bespoke licensing arrangements between them. It wants to cut some red tape, essentially.

There are also some pricing moves listed in Ofcom’s consultation document. It is looking at more incentive-based pricing to enable more efficient use of the spectrum.

That’s usually good news for most, but there will doubtless be some concerns from within the industry on safety, effective coexistence and so forth. Stakeholders will have the opportunity to have their say by responding to the consultation, which will remain open until 2 February.


About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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