UK operators welcome Ofcom move on spectrum, but warn about interference
The industry welcomed Ofcom’s move to release spectrum in the UK for private and shared usage, although UK operators said their support was contingent on effective coordination measures to protect incumbent users.
Ofcom announced last week it will release spectrum in shared and licensed bands. 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 also making available the 3.8-4.2 GHz band for local private and shared networks.
Three UK made clear Ofcom’s decision to open UK airwaves, notably the 3.8-4.2 GHz band, should not stand in the way of its own plans to offer fixed-wireless broadband access services.
Stephen Lerner, general counsel and director of regulatory affairs at Three UK, commented: “We understand Ofcom’s ambitions to open up access to spectrum to new users. However, these ambitions must be balanced with the spectrum rights of existing users in the 3.8-4.2 GHz band.
“We have exciting plans to use this spectrum to provide 5G home broadband in competition with BT and Virgin. Continued access to the band is fundamental to this ambition. We therefore call on Ofcom to ensure that new users do not interfere with our planned 5G deployment. We look forward to working closely with Ofcom as we make headway with the roll out of 5G.”
Meanwhile, Vodafone acknowledged the move by Ofcom was timely, and confirmed its support and cooperation. But it made clear as well that its services, deployed in expensively licensed spectrum, should not be impacted.
“We welcome Ofcom’s statement on making spectrum available for innovative applications, and will engage in facilitating access to our licensed spectrum in locations where we are not and are unlikely to be using it. We have already been discussing this with both new entrants and Ofcom during the consultation process,” said a spokesperson.
“We support Ofcom’s decision to allow access to 1800 MHz, 2300 MHz and 3800-4200 MHz spectrum on a licensed-shared basis, so long as there are adequate coordination measures to protect incumbent users such as satellite.”
Vodafone also emphasised the value of licensed spectrum, for consumer services anyway, and reminded the sector there is work to do to complete the auction of 700 MHz and 3600 MHz spectrum, pegged for 5G services, and slated for spring next year (2020).
“Nevertheless, the principal mechanism to meet the mobile communications needs of the British public will be via nationally-licensed spectrum, and in this context we will continue to work with Ofcom on the design of the forthcoming 700 MHz/3600 MHz auction,” said the spokersperson.
Meanwhile, industry analysts heralded the move by Ofcom as “important”.
Ken Rehbehn, directing analyst for critical communications at IHS Markit, commented: “Existing LTE and coming 5G technology holds great promise for industrial applications in factories, logistics centres, transportation hubs, and other vital commercial operations.
“But breaking free of Wi-Fi limitations with deterministic 3GPP-based mechanisms takes spectrum. Ofcom’s move is an important step forward to ensure spectrum is available to British industry for the purpose of making this vision a reality.”
Emanuel Kolta, senior analyst at ABI Research, suggested regulators in mature markets had been forced to intervene as telecoms operators have failed to hit upon an efficient and productive means to sub-let spectrum for industrial applications.
“The industry lacks a best practice for allocating spectrum directly to vertical markets. Ofcom and other regulators are releasing masses of shared spectrum to ensure that lack of access does not prevent innovation,” said Kolta.
He added: “In the 5G era, many enterprise users will need to set up secure private networks and connect machinery, vehicles, vessels and a diverse set of other IoT application.”