Ofcom, which has responsibility for management of the radio spectrum in the United Kingdom, yesterday announced its strategic direction and priorities for the spectrum over the next 10 years. The use of the spectrum is critical for both business and consumers, and is fundamental to television and radio broadcasting, mobile communications (voice data and mobile internet), emergency services, smart-meters etc. Demand for spectrum and its use continues to grow, and therefore innovation is needed to make the most efficient use possible of the parts of the spectrum available for existing and likely new applications. In particular, Ofcom intends to explore new opportunities for spectrum sharing (facilitated by “white space” technology), and to manage the co-existence of different services and minimise interference.
Ofcom has identified three key areas where spectrum sharing can play an important role:
– providing high speed wireless connectivity indoors to allow consumers to benefit from superfast broadband;
– increasing the availability of spectrum outdoors for mobile data usage on smartphones and tablets; and for
– supplying spectrum to enable use by the Internet of Things (IoT) in anticipation of an explosion in the number of interconnected wireless devices providing benefits in, for example, energy distribution, healthcare, and transport sectors.
Where spectrum demand cannot currently be met from unused spectrum, it may be that Ofcom will recycle spectrum that has already been allocated, repurposing spectrum currently allocated for low value applications to applications of higher value. The clearance programme for the 800MHz band is a clear example of where this has been done in the past.
The strategy identifies the following six priorities:
1. Addressing future mobile data demands, recognising the importance of improving mobile coverage, and the availability of new mobile services.
Ofcom is already assessing the potential for licence exempt approaches, and monitoring the performance of mobile networks. It also plans to look at further geographical coverage for mobile voice and data services and, in the longer term, monitor developments towards the availability of 5G technology.
2. Implementing Ofcom’s strategy for the 700MHz band and considering the evolution of free-to-view television.
An initial cost benefit analysis is already being undertaken on re-purposing the 700MHz spectrum, with a view to making more of this prime spectrum available for mobile broadband use after 2018. Investigations are ongoing into reducing and avoiding disruption of digital terrestrial television (DTT) resulting from such re-purposing. Ofcom will also monitor developments involving DTT distribution technologies and the implications for the long term role of the DTT platform. For example, the use of the newer DVB-T2 or MPEG-4 standards may allow a greater density of information to be carried within the same amount of spectrum. The likelihood of growth in internet protocol (IP) delivery (as opposed to broadcast) is being considered, but is currently seen as likely to remain a complement to, rather than a replacement for, more traditional broadcast services.
3. Supporting the government’s public sector spectrum release programme.
An auction of the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum slots which were previously allocated to the Ministry of Defence is currently being considered, and the next few years will see Ofcom leveraging its experience to secure further efficiencies in the use of the spectrum by public bodies.
4. Addressing challenges around future Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) spectrum use.
Ofcom is working with stakeholders to understand spectrum requirements for equipment such as wireless cameras and recording equipment. Ofcom will continue to assess the impact of any anticipated spectrum changes on use for PMSE, and take steps to mitigate adverse effects.
5. Enabling growth and innovation in machine-to-machine (M2M) applications and the internet of things (IoT).
Understanding the implications of growth in M2M and IoT will be vital, and Ofcom will seek to understand how the emergence of new technical standards may influence the development of a platform for M2M and IoT. Ofcom is also currently considering the case for a licence-exempt regime for spectrum access for M2M/IoT devices.
6. Supporting the government in its consideration of the future wireless communication needs of the emergency services.
Ofcom will assist the government in assessing an optimal delivery approach to satisfy the long term communications requirements of the emergency services.
In summary, over the next few years, Ofcom expects to see “a continuing emphasis on repurposing of some spectrum bands”, together with “an increase in shared access to spectrum amongst different uses”. Ofcom’s Chief Executive, Ed Richards, stated that “as we move to an increasingly digital infrastructure across our economy it is wireless services which offer some of the most exciting opportunities for growth and innovation. Our spectrum management strategy is aimed at ensuring the regulatory approach helps the UK take as many of these opportunities as possible”.
The full strategy document is available here.