Expanding coverage - new spectrum developments

18 December 2018

The Panel has repeatedly stressed that infrastructure issues and the allocation of spectrum have wide ranging implications for consumers and citizens – affecting not only mobile coverage and broadband provision but also Freeview, radio and a panoply of white space devices.

Spectrum Auctions

The Panel believes that effective spectrum management is essential and Ofcom has today set out updated plans to release new airwaves for mobile services, and requirements for firms to significantly increase outdoor 4G coverage, using at least 500 new transmitter sites to reach more people and businesses. It plans to auction two spectrum ‘bands’ for mobile services by spring 2020.

The 700 MHz band. These airwaves help to provide good mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas, including the countryside.

The 3.6 GHz – 3.8 GHz band. This spectrum is suitable for supporting lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas. It can be used to offer 5G services – the next generation of mobile broadband.

Ofcom plans to include rules with the spectrum, which mean winning bidders would have to do the following within four years of being awarded the airwaves:

  • Extend good, outdoor data coverage to at least 90% of the UK.
  • Improve coverage for at least 140,000 homes and offices that they don’t already cover.
  • Provide coverage from at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas.During the auction, the price for winning airwaves that carry these rules will be discounted by up to £300m to £400m to reflect the investment required, and the social benefits they will bring.Ofcom’s priority is working towards comprehensive mobile broadband coverage across the UK. At the same time, it is supporting the development of 5G – the next generation of mobile networks – to increase mobile capacity and help the UK remain a world leader in mobile technology.

Sharing spectrum

The Panel has pressed Ofcom to encourage better use of currently-held spectrum and we were pleased to see reference to spectrum sharing in Ofcom's Annual Plan. Having a strategy for dynamic spectrum sharing will be vital for the growth of the Internet of Things and the associated economies of scale. Ofcom has today published plans to allow certain spectrum to be shared by different users, to support innovation and local coverage initiatives.

This could support wireless technology in a range of sectors, and other airwaves could be used to build and operate own local mobile networks, improving coverage indoors and outdoors.

For example, it proposes making spectrum available for shared use in bands used by existing mobile phones. It also plans to allow organisations to use airwaves that are licensed to mobile firms, but not currently being used. This could help local communities to boost coverage in their area.

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