UK releases masses of spectrum for private, shared usage; squeezes operators
Ofcom will open up a large tranche of the UK airwaves for enterprises to deploy private and shared networks, dedicating the 3.8-4.2 GHz band for local deployments, requiring national operators to relinquish unused licensed spectrum to enterprises, and making available the lower 26 GHz band for private and shared access as well.
Ofcom will release spectrum in both shared spectrum bands and in licensed spectrum, already paid for by mobile operators for national coverage. The move represents a significant shift in UK spectrum policy, and follows spectrum liberalisation in other markets, notably the US and Germany, geared towards industrial transformation.
Ofcom will grant local shared-access licenses in the 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz shared bands, sections of which are licensed to mobile operators running public networks. It is making available the 3.8-4.2 GHz band exclusively for local private and shared networks. The 3.8-4.2 GHz band will not sold for national mobile broadband services.
“This could deny opportunities for local users,” it said. Operators will be required to make do with their winnings in the 3.6-3.8 GHz auction.
The lower 26 GHz band, harmonised across Europe as the pioneer millimetre band for public 5G, has also been opened up for shared access. This is geared towards indoor-only deployments. “We are adding to the spectrum options that would enable deployment of new 5G indoor applications, for example, for industrial users, with little to no impact on existing services,” said Ofcom.
Meanwhile, Ofcom has moved to grant local access to spectrum that is already licensed to mobile operators, but is not used or scheduled for use in the particular area. This covers vacant local spectrum holdings in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1400 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2300 MHz, 2600 MHzand 3.4 GHz bands.
These new sub-licenses for already-licensed spectrum, organised by Ofcom, will rely also on approval from the incumbent license holder; new users will be required to show their local networks do not interfere with national networks, or the future plans of national network operators.
Ofcom said already-licensed spectrum is only likely to be reallocated for private networks in local instances in remote areas, including rural territories and isolated indsutrial sites, including mines and marine operations, which national operators do not serve.
These deployments could support “a private network without impacting the incumbent networks”, said Ofcom.
Enterprises can apply for two types of shared access under the new rules. A low-power licence defines the area covered, and allow users to deploy any number of base stations in a 50-metre radius without authorisation from Ofcom. For large sites, people can apply for multiple low-power licences.
A medium-power licence limits the transmission power from base stations, and is issued per base station. Ofcom said mid-power licences will apply for deployments in rural areas only, where they are unlikely to constrain low power users.
Ofcom will charge an average annual licence fee of £320, based on a 40MHz holding. It calculates £80 per 10 MHz in all bands, except 1800 MHz, which will be available at £80 for 2 x 3.3 MHz. Licences will be for three years, as default, and may be may revoked, if not in use, with one month’s notice.
Demand for newly available 3.8-4.2 GHz licences is uncertain, noted Ofcom, Licenses will be liable to review and change, it said. Enterprises may also be required to change frequency in the same band for spectrum planning purposes. Equipment will have to start transmitting within six months of the licence being issued.
“We want to support innovation and enable new uses of spectrum, and we recognise there is growing interest in the use of mobile technology, including 5G, to develop solutions to meet local wireless connectivity needs. To ensure that lack of access to the radio spectrum does not prevent innovation, we are introducing a new licensing approach to provide localised access to spectrum bands that can support mobile technology,” said Ofcom in a statement.
“Local access to these bands could support growth and innovation across a range of sectors, such as manufacturing, enterprise, logistics, agriculture, mining and health. It could enable organisations to set up their own local networks with greater control over security, resilience and reliability than they may have currently.
“For example, manufacturers connecting machinery wirelessly, farmers connecting agricultural devices such as irrigation systems and smart tractors wirelessly, enterprise users setting up secure private voice and data networks within a site, as well as rural wireless broadband connectivity using fixed wireless access.”