Ofcom plans more flexible spectrum regulation in 2020s

Ofcom has outlined its vision for spectrum regulation in the 2020s, vowing to ensure that innovative applications have access to the airwaves they need to function.

The regulator’s recent spectrum programme has been focused on ensuring 5G networks have access to sufficient spectrum.

5G networks will use a more diverse range of spectrum than any previous mobile generation because of the need to support multiple use cases such as mobile Internet and the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

Ofcom spectrum

In addition to low-band frequencies like 700MHz and 800MHz, 5G will also be powered by high-band airwaves such as 26MHz millimetre Wave (mmWave) that offer huge capacity over short distances and mid-band spectrum like 3.4GHz that is a compromise between coverage and capacity.

Ofcom’s new ‘Spectrum Management Strategy’ will seek to support the wireless industry with a more flexible approach that will maximise the UK’s finite spectrum resources.

Firstly, Ofcom plans to speak to businesses to see how they could improve their work through the use of wireless spectrum, while it also wants to free up airwaves for ‘pioneers’ of new use cases such as machine to machine (M2M) communications.

Ofcom has already decided to release 18.2GHz of extremely high frequencies (EHF) to enable very high capacity, ultra-reliable connections over short distances, such as a factory floor.

The regulator also wants to offer local spectrum licences that cover a small geographic area. Currently, licences are awarded on a national basis but this structure is unsuitable for airports, factories and remote farms that want to deploy wireless applications across a small area.

Another proposal to increase capacity is spectrum sharing. This allows airwaves to be shared between multiple users. Ofcom has already launched a framework but wants to expand this capability to higher bands while ensuring provisions are in place to reduce interference.

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