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University of Surrey Paper Calls for Changes to Aid UK Rural 5G Cover

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 (11:03 am) - Score 622

A new discussion paper from the University of Surrey, which was produced as part of the UK Government’s 5G Testbed and Trials programme, has warned that it will take more than “competition and public financing” to fill the existing rural mobile coverage gaps with 5G (mobile broadband) services. But they’ve got ideas.

At present Ofcom estimates that some 92% of premises (indoor) in the UK should be able to make a mobile voice call (up from 90% last year) across all operators, but this drops to 77% for 4G data connections (up from 65%). Meanwhile outdoor geographic coverage of 4G services across the UK is just 66% from all four operators (up from 43%) or 91% from at least one operator (EE).

The current Government aims to extend geographic mobile network coverage to 95% of the UK by 2022 and at the same time they also intend to reach the “majority” of the United Kingdom with the next generation of 5G mobile services by 2027. In keeping with that the forthcoming auction of the 5G friendly 700MHz band (good for coverage) will include tougher coverage obligations (here).

However today’s paper says that much more “serious and imaginative thought” will be required in order to create a 5G network that can reach into the areas 4G forgot. The problem is that many of those area are often classified as being “uneconomic” to reach, but the paper suggests there may be solutions.

Main Recommendations

1. Invest in further innovation, test beds and trials to explore options to enable innovative spectrum usage, outside of main population areas and where network economics do not support viable business models:

a. 700 MHz for large area coverage.
b. 3.6 to 3.8 GHz for medium capacity / coverage.
c. mmWave bands for high capacity spot coverage.
d. mmWave bands front haul / back haul for difficult to reach locations, using enhanced antenna technology capability.
e. Hybrid solutions, orchestrated by 5G networks to combine recommendations 1a, 1b, 1c and 1d.
f. Technology demonstrators to show technical feasibility to support Recommendation 2.

2. Explore new approaches with respect to spectrum management and licensing models for different bands, covering conventional national licensing for high population areas combined with alternative models for areas where it is economically challenging to deploy networks, e.g. rural, transport corridors and indoor solutions. Candidates for evaluation are listed below, where ‘x’ denotes a variable to be determined by band:

a. Last x% by area, opened up for LOCAL USAGE / GEOGRAPHICALLY LIMITED to allow third party and self-provision if not used by primary licence holder FROM DAY 1 or AFTER A SET PERIOD.
b. Last x% by area, unified national approach to share spectrum.
c. Last x% by area or total UK – Dynamic Spectrum Access.
d. Split band usage, set aside x MHz of band for shared registered use across all of UK.
e. Differentiation of indoor and outdoor through EIRP management.
f. Combinations of all the above.

3. Engage with Ofcom enabling opportunities for innovation shared access to spectrum supporting mobile technology consultation (closing date 12th March 2019).

Coverage and capacity in the right places will be perhaps the biggest challenge of the 5G era, and the need for innovative hybrid solutions will be essential for opening up new models for usage and sharing to lower the network economic costs to provide not only coverage but also capacity in spot locations. The use of just one technology, spectrum band and/or architecture is no longer a viable approach, as one solution does not fit all.

The paper claims that adopting these significant recommendations could result in 5G services contributing £7bn to the UK economy, with an additional £3bn per year from a secondary supply chain by 2026.

Regius Professor Rahim Tafazolli, University of Surrey, said:

“We are obviously excited about 5G, but we are determined that the technologies benefit as many communities as possible in our country. There has been huge innovation in 5G technologies – we also need innovation in usage of scarce and precious spectrum.

The points raised in this discussion paper are important and should be used as a starting point for open dialogue between businesses and regulators for the benefit of all, considering the important role of mobile network operators and their massive contributions to economy and society.”

Separately the GSMA, which represents hundreds of mobile network operators across the world, has called on regulators (Ofcom) and Governments to help support 5G by ensuring that auctions for related spectrum don’t focus on maximising revenue (i.e. asking operators to pay through the nose reduces how much they can invest into their networks).

Instead the operators want to see new spectrum being made available in a fair way, which is something they always seem to say. In fairness the previous round of 4G auctions was much more grounded than those of the prior 3G bands, which have long since become notorious for placing too high a value on the spectrum it released and thus stunting development. By comparison the 5G auctions seem to be following a similar style to 4G.

Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Avatar A_Builder says:

    Quite an interesting idea to force bandwidth sharing in uneconomic areas.

    Prevents spectrum hoarding, I supose.

    The only issue is if the licence holder subsequently wants to do that area commercially?

    I suspect it is a one way street that the license holder has to declare an area uneconomic and thereby open the spectrum for sharing

  2. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

    A time must surely come when the 2G 900mhz spectrum should be re-purposed, with 2G being such an old standard it uses the spectrum very inefficiently, but the frequency can cover rural areas very well.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The choice on 900MHz is entirely down to operators as Ofcom has long since introduced a way for them to request a variation of its use to 3G or 4G. I believe some already use it for such services (e.g. O2).


    2. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      Thanks Mark, didn’t know this, to the best of my knowledge 900 is only being used for 2G here in Devon, but good to know they can update it.

  3. Avatar Richard Auld Concept Solutions People says:

    4G and 5G rural coverage will be helped by rural fibre and DCMS’s strategy for the 10% of areas that will never be addressed commercially with fibre of “outside-in” investment. i.e. to start with the most distant areas and work backwards. Mobile base stations that can be supplied with cost-effective fibre links reduce the barriers to the delivery of rural 5G.

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