What would Brexit mean for the UK's wireless comms industry?
Written by: Land Mobile | Published:

​The referendum to decide whether the UK will either remain in or leave the EU is one of the most important decisions our electorate will ever be asked to make. However, while plenty has been said about immigration and the now-infamous £350 million a week figure, there's been little discussion on what Brexit might mean for the UK's radio and wireless comms industry. Chris Pateman, CEO of the FCS gives his views on the subject.

I don't think the UK was the only member state to be surprised by the EU Commission's rather bombastic decision to gerrymander itself a seat at the next World Radio Council – still less its decision to presume to speak in our name. But the referendum means we are currently the only nation with the opportunity to formally reassert our national sovereignty over radio spectrum.

UK Business Radio dealers are extremely concerned about the direction of travel on spectrum allocation across the EU. The UK has a long history and a hugely varied deployment of users and uses within the UHF2 band, and we need to work closely with Ofcom just to manage the existing issues. We don't need the disruption of extremely important services in the UK arising from Harmonisation Decisions from the EU. Proposals for EU-wide uniformity of emergency services comms, for example, both threaten existing UK spectrum band-plans and ignore the practicalities of the UK's decision to use public cellular networks for emergency services voice and data applications.

Customers in Kent and Sussex and along the Eastern seaboard already experience interference from French and Dutch transmitters. These have been controlled for decades through inter-state negotiations and very careful management arrangements. But, the EU's centralising imperative is likely to make them worse, not better, in the years to come because the UK is not in a position to easily change their arrangements in the UHF2 band whereas neighbours might want to change or even be forced to. This misalignment may make interference more challenging. The solution, if there is one, lies in intelligent discussion between professional users and regulators on both sides of the Channel - not in central planning by well-meaning bureaucrats.

But beyond spectrum, the overall effect of EU membership has been to attach what might become a huge bureaucratic burden to placing new products on to the UK market, and to selling them on – but without doing (anything useful) enough to prevent non-conforming products being imported and used in the UK. Simple electrical engineering tasks that radio dealers have traditionally undertaken to create infrastructure components to address specific user requirements are now theoretically technically illegal unless the dealer puts them through an expensive product conformity process that costs many times the price of the component. This doesn't help the industry, doesn't help the customer and doesn't help the market.

For all these reasons, it is difficult to make a case that the interests of the Business Radio industry would be in any way better served by remaining in the EU. Voting to leave would give us shorter and more accountable reporting lines; together with the opportunity to work with a newly unshackled Ofcom and BIS to re-engineer product conformity legislation to deliver real customer benefits rather than tick bureaucratic boxes.

If you have strong views on this topic, we'd love to hear them

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