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Ofcom May Create Thousands of Local UK 5G Mobile Networks

Monday, June 17th, 2019 (11:35 am) - Score 3,636

The UK telecoms regulator has controversially proposed that it may reserve 390MHz of spectrum in the 3.8-4.2GHz bands, which could be sold to “thousands” of new entrants in order to help them build 5G based mobile broadband networks for local coverage or industrial use (i.e. each license may cover just 50 square metres).

The “revolutionary” idea has already been deployed in Germany, where 100MHz of mid-band spectrum was reserved for local and industrial use, although a similar approach in the United Kingdom seems unlikely to be well received by the primary Mobile Network Operators (MNO) like EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three UK.

In Germany the main operators blamed a similar change for helping to drive-up the price of spectrum during one of the country’s recent 5G auctions. Operator’s often say that the more expensive the spectrum, the less money they have to invest in rolling the service out and making packages affordable for consumers.

In the UK it’s widely believed that the high price of the early 3G auctions may have heavily stunted that technology’s development, before 4G came along as part of a more sensibly priced auction.

Mansoor Hanif, Ofcom’s CTO, said (Lightreading):

“5G is an opportunity for everyone and we’d like to encourage new entrants. We want to give low-cost access to local spectrum so that anyone who thinks they need 5G coverage on an industrial campus and feels it isn’t served by MNOs fast enough should be able to build their own network.”

The spectrum itself would be low power and probably only offered in 10MHz blocks, which in fairness would considerably limit its potential performance. Equally there’s a lack of supporting hardware in the market for this and some vendors may even be nervous about upsetting their primary MNO customers (i.e. when selling kit to smaller entrants).

All of this should of course be tempered against the fact that we have yet to see any official regulation or announcements from Ofcom, aside from their speech to last week’s 5G World event (above quote). We note that Japan and the Netherlands are considering a similar move.

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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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12 Responses
  1. spurple says:

    What do these 50 square metre applications require that Wifi can’t deliver today?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      This is one reasons why I’m keen to see the detail of Ofcom’s proposal, particularly if they only give it a small slice of spectrum.

    2. kekkle says:

      Presumably this would be for mMTC?

    3. Joe says:

      One has to assume biz is asking for it but I must admit I’m not clear what they are planning here.

    4. Mike says:

      How else would the government find a way to waste 390Mhz of spectrum?

  2. AnotherTim says:

    I’m also struggling to see an application for this. Isn’t the problem going to be backhaul rather than 5G or WiFi coverage? Surely if you have backhaul to a “campus” then it is easy to cover a large area with WiFi – I have good WiFi coverage over a couple of acres (it is just a shame my broadband is rubbish).

    1. boggits says:

      There are a bunch of use cases that make it useful:

      – In an area that has lots of wifi noise from competing APs you can deploy a chunk of clean spectrum for backhaul that has the guarantee of not being interfered with by other users poor settings/choices. You can then use traditional WiFi bands at a lower power as your access method.

      – On an industrial site, you can move the ‘critical’ equipment onto a dedicated spectrum not impacted by wifi use and provision the service as being latency and reliability specific rather than bandwidth optimised.

      – Where you have Radar in operation that kills 5.8G wifi you can have high bandwidth operations in a different band

      One of the reasons to do this is to allow people access to spectrum to do innovative things with spectrum *and* allow them access to it on a local scale. It might not lead to anything wonderful but without the carve out you rely on the mobile operators being innovative with the spectrum that they can make more money just repeating what has been done elsewhere.

    2. Simon Farnsworth says:

      There are a couple of ways in which 5G may be more suitable for a business than WiFi:

      1. You can pay for a “slice” of a commercial 5G network at commercial rates, and use that as a roaming backup to your private 5G network. Then, you have high speeds cheaply on-site, with UK-wide coverage from your commercial partner.

      2. You may want to combine licensed spectrum with the future 5G NR-U operation in WiFi bands – guaranteed perf in your licensed spectrum for things that need it (e.g. voice calls, M2M), and variable high speed from your unlicensed spectrum for things that don’t need the guarantee (e.g. file downloads or streaming). With carrier aggregation, this should just work seamlessly, using as much unlicensed spectrum as is available when you can, and dropping all the way back to guaranteed QoS on licenced bands when WiFi is dominating the unlicensed area

  3. Phil says:

    One wonders if its a way of restricting supply to push up the bids and pricing. OFCOM win all ways, if demand for this block of spectrum doesn’t take off, they will simply put it up for auction at a later date, after already benefiting from an increase in prices paid the first time round.

    Of course the money goes into the government purse (more than likely after some top people have taken a nice salary), but it just becomes a stealth tax, as us, the humble tax payer, end up paying for it in higher prices for the services that had to bid for the spectrum.

    1. David Sowden says:

      Health report please?

  4. Michael V says:

    We’re currently in testing phase with 5G in rural villages. This is what 5G can really be useful for, so ofcom could reserve spectrum for FWA broadband*. I don’t think we’ll see anyone take up the offer of what ofcom are proposing!
    If spectrum is going to be sold in 10MHz blocks, those small network operators won’t see 5G-NR’s full potential.

    *[Fixed Wireless Access]

  5. Kekkle says:

    Some lunchtime reading on 5G and some of the oppurtunities it presents –

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