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Ofcom UK Moots High Frequency Spectrum for Fixed Wireless Broadband

Thursday, December 7th, 2017 (11:40 am) - Score 763
wireless microwave radio tower

Ofcom has today proposed changes that could result in faster fixed wireless data and broadband links, such as exploring the potential for radio spectrum above 92GHz, changing the authorisation regime in the 64-66GHz band to licence exempt and expanding the use cases for 57-66 GHz (V band).

The proposals follow last year’s Call for Input (here), which kicked off the telecom regulator’s strategic review of fixed wireless spectrum. This covers everything from high capacity wireless data capacity links (e.g. those that supply capacity to mobile network operators) to wireless leased lines for end users.

In the UK, the radio spectrum used to deploy fixed wireless links tends to consist of specific bands currently ranging from 1.3GHz to 86GHz. The choice of frequency band is dependent on various factors including range, resilience to rain and availability of spectrum. The bands are also, in most cases, harmonised across Europe and shared with other services.

According to Ofcom, the “majority of fixed wireless links in the UK” (around 50% of the total fixed wireless link licences supplied) are used to support mobile services (e.g. EE, Three UK, O2 and Vodafone) and therefore the rising demand for Mobile Broadband (e.g. the launch of 5G in 2020) is a key factor.

Some of this increase in demand can be offset by operators building more fibre optic cables into the ground but that won’t solve all of the capacity problems. In particular there are situations where the cost of laying fibre is prohibitive, quick deployment is required or there may be a need to provide a redundant route to fibre, which is said to be “particularly important for some sectors like the utilities“.

Ofcom’s Key Proposals

Review of the technical framework at 57-66GHz V band

Future demand for fixed wireless links is expected to move towards the edge of the network to facilitate dense small cell backhaul and last mile fixed wireless access connectivity. This is expected to require very high capacity links at millimetre wave frequencies and which stakeholders indicated, could be in the form of alternative topologies such as point to multipoint/mesh.

The existing fixed wireless authorisation approaches in the 57 – 66 GHz band are designed for point to point links and do not facilitate point to multipoint/mesh topologies. We are therefore making proposals in this consultation for changes in the regulatory framework in the 57 – 66 GHz band that would facilitate this future demand.

In addition, because of such demand, CEPT [European Communications Office] is also currently reviewing the regulatory framework in the 57 – 66 GHz band with the aim to establish less restrictive technical conditions that would facilitate outdoor use cases, particularly small cell backhauling and fixed wireless access.

Consideration of spectrum for the provision of low capacity fixed wireless links

We note the significant use of the 1.4 GHz band for low capacity fixed wireless links. We also provided an update in this consultation that to date no further decisions on the mobile use of 1492 – 1518 MHz in the UK have been taken. However, there are current plans for the band 1492-1518 to be harmonised for SDL on a EU wide basis under an EU harmonisation measure. Our current conclusion is that low capacity applications will continue to be required over the period covered by this strategy.

We also note that some stakeholders have expressed an interest in possibly utilising spectrum in the remaining sub band 1350 – 1375 MHz for future low capacity application on a TDD basis.

We are therefore seeking further information about future possible low capacity requirements should the upper 1.4 GHz sub band (1429 – 1517 MHz) be made available for future mobile use.

Although our CFI reported limited interest in the use of smaller channels in the gaps within 6 GHz spectrum, this was mainly due to lack of equipment availability. However, the need for low capacity connectivity, as indicated by some stakeholders (e.g. for utility uses) remains. We therefore also plan to explore smaller bandwidth channels (3.5 MHz and below) in the band gaps at 6 GHz.

Consideration of alternative authorisation approaches for 52 GHz and 55 GHz

We referred to currently available spectrum that remained unused in bands around 52 GHz and 55 GHz. The bands each offer 2 x 504 MHz of spectrum. As we have indicated, both these bands have harmonised CEPT channel arrangements and are available for high density applications in the fixed service.

These bands are currently available for assignment under Ofcom’s frequency assignment methodology. There remains limited or no equipment development for these bands and until now no use has been observed in the UK.

Due to emerging interest in the use of new applications for the fixed wireless service in spectrum around 60 GHz, we consider there is merit in looking at possible alternative authorisation approaches to make this spectrum available, such as block assignment, and are seeking stakeholder views on this.

Consideration of spectrum at W band and D band for future fixed wireless links

As indicated in our findings, there has been a strong interest in exploiting the higher millimetre wave spectrum at W band and D band for future mobile backhaul applications. The spectrum at these frequencies offers the potential to enable very high capacity connectivity. Channel arrangements are also being considered within CEPT to enable such applications on the basis of 250 MHz channels which could have the potential to be aggregated to enable greater capacity.

To help inform our further consideration on how this spectrum could be made available we are asking for information about how these bands will likely be used for mobile backhaul and views on the most appropriate licensing approach(es) that should be considered.

New capacity enhancing techniques

A number of capacity enhancing techniques were raised through the CFI to provide capacity for future mobile networks. The responses seemed to suggest an interest from some operators in further exploring some new techniques. Specifically, we draw out the following the approaches that have been described in stakeholder responses:

• Band aggregation
• Full duplex operation

Several operators indicated interest to deploy band aggregation which aggregates a higher band link with lower band link to create a single combined link through a single antenna.

Regarding full duplex operation it is noted that it is unlikely that this type of operation could be deployed in the current Ofcom managed technically assigned fixed links bands without significant replanning, particularly due to high-low54 clashes that would be generated with such configurations. We therefore consider that full duplex can only be introduced in new bands such as W and D and welcome further views on this and the appropriate technical and regulatory aspects needed to facilitate it.

Ofcom are now conducting a new consultation on these areas, which is expected to run until 5pm on 1st February 2018. The regulator then intends to set out their conclusions before the end of H1 2018.

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Mark Jackson

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

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