UK regulator opens up airwaves for DIY wireless services

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Ofcom says farming, factories and business parks are among those most likely to benefit.

The flurry of activity in the UK mobile market contiues. Now the regulator is to open airwaves previously reserved for certain parties and will allow different groups to access airwaves licensed to mobile companies, that are not being used by them.

Under the new sharing framework, these airwaves will be available for local use by a range of other parties – such as small businesses or start-ups. Ofcom is adding safeguards to ensure that these users do not cause interference to other users.

The new approach could pave the way for a number of new services. For example:
•    Connected factories could use a reliable, high-speed wireless networks to connect, control and monitor machinery.
•    Farmers could also set up their own local network across large sites, improving communications between people and connected agricultural devices that monitor livestock and crops, irrigation systems and smart tractors.
•    Business parks could set up their own tailored, secure communications networks without needing to relying on mobile and broadband coverage.
•    Holiday parks could connect visitors during their stay by setting up local mobile broadband networks.

Other possibilities include shopping centres, transport hubs, such as ports, and companies in the logistics industry.

The sharing approach could also help small communities – mostly in rural areas – where national mobile networks have yet to reach.

New rules

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom, said, “Wireless spectrum is a valuable, finite resource, so it’s vital we use it efficiently.

“Our new sharing approach will help more people access airwaves to create local networks around the UK. The benefits of this innovation could extend across our economy, from farms to factories, as well as supporting new technology firms.”

Ofcom is opening up spectrum in the 3.8-4.2 GHz, 1800 MHz1 and 2300 MHz2 bands, available through local licences. People can apply to Ofcom for coordinated access to these bands on a first-come, first-served basis and will pay a licence fee to cover Ofcom’s cost of issuing the licence.

The regulator will align the authorisation for existing licensees in the 1800MHz shared spectrum with the authorisation approach for the newly released shared access bands.

It is introducing a new way to access spectrum that is already licensed to mobile operators but which is not being used or planned for use in a particular area within the next three years. People can apply to Ofcom for a licence and, if the application is successful, will pay £950 per licence, which allows them to use the spectrum for three years unless they ask for a different period and this can be agreed with the existing licensees.

Finally, Ofcom has added the 24.25-26.5GHz band to the spectrum-sharing framework for indoor deployment only. This is part of the 26GHz band, identified as a European pioneer 5G band, and could provide additional spectrum for new applications.

You can find more information here.

In line with other countries

Joe Barrett, President of the GSA (the Global mobile Suppliers Association), said Ofcom’s decision is “a significant and welcome step in the UK, and is one that is being taken by more and more regulators around the world.

“5G connectivity is a key pillar in enabling Industry 4.0 and so this opening up of the airwaves is to be welcomed as an important move towards ensuring sufficient spectrum and the favourable regulatory conditions required to enable vertical industries such as smart manufacturing, mining, hospitals and agriculture to take advantage of the 5G opportunity.”

The GSA outlined four options for providing capacity for industries, businesses and communities looking to benefit from the mobile or wireless broadband networks:

• using mobile network operators’ services within dedicated network slices,

• leasing spectrum from mobile operators

• local licensing of spectrum (for example, through geographical sharing) and

• license-exempt bands.

Barrett concluded, “Ultimately…there should be sufficient spectrum and adequate regulatory conditions to enable the integration of vertical industries both through 5G public mobile networks and locally-operated private networks.

“We encourage spectrum regulators to further investigate details of these options to ensure timely availability and balance with national and local use of spectrum, taking into account equipment availability timelines and spectrum options within global tuning ranges supported by the 5G ecosystem.”