Ofcom announces plans for spectrum auctions and a consultation on spectrum sharing
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

Ofcom announced on 18 December that it is planning to auction 200 MHz of spectrum (80 MHz in the 700 MHz band and 120 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band) for mobile services by spring 2020 and has published plans for spectrum sharing to support innovation and local coverage initiatives.

It has stated that use of the 700MHz band will help to provide good mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas, including the countryside, while the 3.6-3.8GHz band is suitable for supporting “lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas” and can be used to provide 5G services.

The regulator intends to require the winners of the spectrum to do the following within four years of obtaining it:

  • Extend good, outdoor data coverage to at least 90% of the UK.
  • Improve coverage for at least 140,000 homes and offices that they don’t already cover.
  • Provide coverage from at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas.

During the auction, the price for winning airwaves that carry these rules will be discounted by up to £300m to £400m to reflect the investment required, and the social benefits they will bring. This plan is under consultation and the consultation documents can be viewed here.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s spectrum group director, said: “Mobile coverage has improved across the UK this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a signal. We’re particularly concerned about mobile reception in rural areas.

“As we release new airwaves for mobile, we’re planning rules that would extend good mobile coverage to where it’s needed. That will help ensure that rural communities have the kind of mobile coverage that people expect in towns and cities, reducing the digital divide.”

Ofcom has also published plans to allow certain spectrum to be shared by different users, to support innovation and local coverage initiatives.

This could support wireless technology in a range of sectors, and other airwaves could be used by organisations and groups to build and operate their own local mobile networks, improving coverage indoors and outside.

For example, the regulator proposes making spectrum available for shared use in bands used by existing mobile phones. It also plans to allow organisations to use airwaves that are licensed to mobile firms, but not currently being used. This could help local communities to boost coverage in their area.

Ofcom has published a consultation on these spectrum sharing proposals, which can be viewed here

Ofcom has also published its annual Connected Nations report, which can be viewed here. The regulator notes that almost all homes and offices can get a good, indoor 4G signal from at least one operator, while three-quarters (77 per cent) are covered by all four networks. This is up from the 65 per cent seen last year.

It also reports that 78 per cent of the UK has outdoor call coverage from all four operators – up from 69 per cent a year ago. In addition, 91 per cent of the UK has a good 4G mobile internet signal from at least one operator, up from 80 per cent last year. Meanwhile, two-thirds (66 per cent) has 4G coverage from all four, up from 49 per cent last year However, Ofcom states that too many rural areas have patchy or unreliable mobile reception. While 83 per cent of urban homes and offices have good 4G coverage, only 41 per cent of those in rural areas do. In some remote rural areas there is no coverage at all.

Ofcom states that it wants to see “faster progress in rolling out 4G to areas still lacking good coverage – allowing people to make calls, access the internet, stream video and use smartphone apps wherever they are”.

Commenting on the news, Adam Leach, director of emerging technology, at Nominet (which claims to be the first operator to be approved by Ofcom to use TV White Space technology for wireless broadband and is a member of the 5G Further Faster initiative) said: “Ofcom today is taking an important step toward managing spectrum in a way fit for the 21st century. Ofcom’s decision to enable new and innovative players to utilise spectrum will be welcomed by all communities underserved by the traditional licensing framework to date.

"We also welcome Ofcom’s recognition that dynamic spectrum access will be a key part of delivering this, and ensuring that spectrum is utilised as efficiently as possible, in the interests of all users. Nominet is particularly proud of the role it already plays in supporting Ofcom to do this through TV white space. With the technology ready to enable sharing, it is vital Ofcom be ambitious in its proposals, including how they consider further how this can support the licensing and utilisation of the vital 5G spectrum also announced today, in addition to 4G.”


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