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Ofcom Consults on Use of 3.6GHz and 3.8GHz for 5G Mobile Broadband

Thursday, October 6th, 2016 (12:42 pm) - Score 1,259

The telecoms regulator has today opened a new consultation to examine whether the existing radio spectrum bands between 3.6GHz and 3.8GHz could be opened up for future ultra-fast 5G based Mobile Broadband or similar services in the United Kingdom.

At present the bands are already being used to provide electronic communication services via various fixed links, Satellite earth stations and wireless broadband services. In terms of the latter, UK Broadband Ltd. via Relish Wireless has a UK-wide licence to access 84MHz between 3605-3689MHz and 84MHz at 3925-4009MHz (mostly deployed in London and Swindon).

However the regulator notes that the “intensity of use” in the bands is quite low, which leaves room for improvement. For example, there are a total of 35 fixed links in the band and that compares to thousands in several other bands. It’s also a similar story for Satellite services.

3-4_to_3-8ghz

Mind you some of those fixed links are being used to provide capacity for areas of low population density, such as the links near the Hebrides and Shetland islands in Scotland, as well as two additional fixed links to the west and north of Aberdeen. Plus there are a number of fixed links connecting London and the South East. So the intensity of use might be low, but even Ofcom admits that it delivers a “range of valuable benefits for UK consumers.”

Ofcoms Statement

National regulators across Europe and industry have identified the wider 3.4 to 3.8 GHz band as a potential first 5G band. This band can provide the large bandwidths necessary for new 5G services and is harmonised within Europe. We have identified this band as high priority for consideration for mobile use since 2014. We are currently readying an award for 150MHz in the lower part of the band, 3.4 to 3.6 GHz.

This consultation proposes making the upper part of this band, 3.6 to 3.8 GHz, available for future mobile services including 5G. This would include eventually awarding for mobile use the remaining 116 MHz of the band which is not already in use for electronic communications services.

We believe that this will result in more efficient use of the spectrum and greater benefits for UK citizens and consumers. We also believe that making this band available for mobile has the potential to help us fulfil our duties regarding competition and innovation.

One rather significant challenge in all this stems from Ofcom’s initial coexistence analysis, which indicates that “large separation distances between mobile and existing users in the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz band would be required to prevent undue interference to existing users.”

Put another way, if Ofcom retains the current approach then large areas of the UK would be out of reach for mobile services via 3.6-3.8MHz. The alternative method would be to remove the existing users’ authorisation for fixed links and satellite services. As a result some operators might have to use different spectrum and a few satellite solutions “would have to adjust to an expectation of much lower spectrum quality.”

The duplexed nature of the band also means that Ofcom has to consider the effect of their policies on both 3.6 to 3.8GHz and the neighbouring 3.8 to 4.2 GHz band. In particular, use of the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz spectrum by fixed links is paired (or duplexed) with spectrum in the upper part of the band (3.8 to 4.2 GHz). Ofcom are currently examining 3.8-4.2GHz under a separate programme (here).

At this stage we don’t expect to see the first solid standard to emerge for 5G until later in 2017 and it’s important to note that the new technology will deliver its best speeds using much higher frequencies (e.g. 73GHz and 28GHz), although 5G can also work at lower frequencies too. The latest consultation will remain open until 1st December 2016.

Ofcom’s 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz Consultation
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/future-use-at-3.6-3.8-ghz

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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