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Ofcom Undecided on Releasing Upper 6GHz Band for Mobile or WiFi

Tuesday, Dec 6th, 2022 (11:54 am) - Score 3,320
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The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today issued an update on its position with respect to whether the upper 6GHz radio spectrum band (6425 to 7125MHz) should be released for use by either higher-power licensed 5G mobile networks (mobile broadband) or lower-power Wi-Fi (e.g. home WiFi).

At present, there is known to be “intense and competing industry interest” in the regulator’s position on this topic, with some arguing for the upper 6GHz band to be released for licence-exempt consumer WiFi and mobile operators stating that it would have a greater impact in licensed 5G mobile networks.

Ofcom has already made the Lower part (5925 to 6425MHz) of this band available for WiFi under the new WiFi 6E and future standards (here), but the Upper part has remained the subject of some debate. The regulator has now decided to favour somewhat of a “no change” outcome in future discussions at the next World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in 2023.

Ofcom Statement

While Ofcom sees potential for consumer benefit from either higher-power licensed mobile or from lower-power Wi-Fi of the upper 6 GHz band, the case between the two is currently finely balanced.

Based on the balance of risks and opportunities, Ofcom favours a “no change” outcome to the upper 6GHz band in discussions at WRC-23, which will provide flexibility to respond to future market and industry developments.

Next year’s WRC debate is due to decide upon whether the 6425-7025MHz band should be considered for “IMT identification” (i.e. make it available to mobile operators) in ITU-R Region 1 only (whilst 7025-7125 MHz is being considered globally). Region 1 usually reflects Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Russia etc. (the upper band is already being used for WiFi in the USA). Passing such a change would not force Ofcom to follow suit, but it would make it harder to resist doing the same.

By comparison, Ofcom’s “no change” position at the WRC would not preclude them from authorising higher power mobile use “if that turns out to be the optimal use for the band“, which gives them more flexibility to adapt at a time when they’re struggling to choose the right position (also known as continuing to sit on the fence).

The regulator makes the point that, unlike mobile and its many spectrum bands, Wi-Fi is much more limited in its allocations (i.e. 2.4GHz, 5GHz and Lower 6GHz). The upper 6GHz band is so prized for this purpose because they are “not aware of alternative bands that would be likely to attract industry support at the same scale for the foreseeable future,” while mobile operators have more options.

So for the time being, Ofcom appears happy to adopt a wait and see approach with market development, before deciding in the future which way to turn. But next year’s WRC may yet be the deciding factor, as not every regulator may take a similar position.

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
7 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Jammie1408 says:

    If the 6GHZ spectrum can help with the terrible 5G signal that we have in the U.K at the moment, then if should be allowed to be auctioned off (fairly) to the UK networks providers.

    1. Avatar photo Connor says:

      6Ghz would be less distance than we currently get on n78 (3.5Ghz)

    2. Avatar photo mrpops2ko says:

      With the way things are going it seems like a bunch of operators want to go exclusive VoLTE / wifi calling.

      Would it not be possible to kill 2 birds with one stone by allocating to wifi and the ISPs themselves (a good few of which also have mobile ventures now) just have greater availability of open wifi hotspots via CPE routers?

    3. Avatar photo Rich says:

      The 5G implementation here in London is janky and slow so they’ve already screwed up the bandwidth allocation that they’ve already received. As the author states, the phone networks have other options while wifi bandwidth is precious. Release for wifi use!

  2. Avatar photo Rahbut says:

    The top half of 6Ghz is already in use for WiFi in the US, so anyone seeing reviews of 6E kit will think “wow”… That sets an expectation that 6E over here should be similarly performant when it’s not.

    Even if they allocated everything from 450Mhz and up to 5G, they’d still be complaining about wanting more spectrum, so why don’t they get on with mmWave?

    And if they want to do VoLTE they could repurpose 2G/3G spectrum leaving just enough for legacy smart meters etc.

    1. Avatar photo anon says:

      I have heard that most operators are decommissioning the 2g/3g network in favor for 4g and above. The source of this is a good friend of mine who works at Vodafone! This is done because running 2g/3g is very costly compared to 4g and 5g.

  3. Avatar photo Philip says:

    5Ghz and 6Ghz used to be known as microwave frequencies suited to unobstructed point to point connections between tall structures, dense fog causes attenuation of the signals.

    I’m more than curious to understand how 6Ghz will translate into a reliable voice or video call in a modern office block constructed of steel, concrete and covered in metal coated reflective glass.

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