5G industry news

Airwaves opened up to support wireless revolution

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Eleanor Brash on 25 Jul 2019
  • Last modified 1 Aug 2019
Farmers, factories and business parks are some of the groups that could benefit from a revolution in wireless technology, following a decision by Ofcom today to open up airwaves to support innovation and enable new services.

Ofcom manages the UK’s airwaves – or spectrum – which are crucial to power services such as mobile phones, wireless broadband and connected devices.

To help promote wireless innovation across the UK economy, we have today decided to open up airwaves that previously could only be used by certain parties. We’re also allowing different groups to access airwaves licensed to mobile companies, but not being used by them.

Under the a new sharing framework, these airwaves will be available for local use by a range of other parties – such as small businesses or pioneering start-up firms. Ofcom is adding safeguards to ensure that these users do not cause interference to existing users.

Supporting innovation

The new approach could pave the way for a number of new services. For example:

  • Manufacturers could establish connected factories – using a reliable, high-speed wireless networks to connect, control and monitor machinery.
  • Farmers could also set up their own local network across large sites, improving communications between people and connected agricultural devices – used for monitoring livestock and crops, irrigation systems and smart tractors.
  • Business parks could set up their own bespoke, secure communications networks – without needing to rely on existing mobile and broadband coverage.
  • Holiday parks could help their visitors stay connected during their break, by setting up local mobile broadband networks.

Shopping centres, transport hubs such as ports and companies in the logistics industry may also be interested in setting up their own local networks, using the spectrum we’re making available.

Better connections for rural communities

As well as supporting industry to innovate, the sharing approach could help small communities – mostly in rural areas - where national mobile networks have yet to reach.

Under the new rules, villages, small business groups and other communities can apply to access airwaves which are licensed to the major mobile companies but not currently used by them locally. These could be used to support dedicated local mobile or wireless broadband networks, improving coverage in the area.

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom, said: “Wireless spectrum is a valuable, finite resource, so it’s vital we use it efficiently.

“Our new sharing approach will help more people access airwaves to create local networks around the UK. The benefits of this innovation could extend across our economy, from farms to factories, as well as supporting new technology firms.”

The airwaves we're making available

We are making airwaves available in four ‘frequency bands’ on a shared basis:

  • the 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz shared spectrum bands, which are currently used for mobile services;
  • the 3.8-4.2 GHz band, which supports the latest 5G mobile technology; and
  • the 26 GHz band, which has also been identified as one of the main bands for 5G in the future. We have added this band since first proposing our spectrum sharing approach (PDF, 3.3 MB) in December 2018.

Spectrum sharing – how it works

Shared access licences: to apply for access to these airwaves, interested parties will need to provide Ofcom with details of the spectrum band they want to access, the amount of spectrum they wish to use and where in the country they plan to use it.

Once we receive requests, we will co-ordinate access to the shared spectrum on a first come, first served basis for each location. For each request, we will assess how those airwaves are being used, to ensure there is no interference with other nearby users.

We will consider requests for shared access to the four frequency bands by end 2019.

The Shared Access licence application process

Local access licences: parties looking to use spectrum that is licensed to mobile companies, but not being used by them in a local area, can apply to Ofcom from today. Users will pay £950 per licence, which allows them to use the spectrum for up to three years – or longer if agreed with the relevant mobile company.

We have published guidance on these licences and how they work, including how to apply.

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