A plan to enable the UK to meet the growing demands placed on its wireless infrastructure over the next decade has been published by Ofcom.
The Spectrum Management Strategy sets Ofcom’s strategic approach and priorities for managing radio spectrum, which underpins all wireless services.
Applications that use this invisible but valuable resource include: mobile phones and tablets, TV and radio broadcasting, communications for the emergency services, aeronautical communications, wireless cameras, microphones, smart-meters and wearable communications devices.
This work complements the Government’s aim to double the contribution that spectrum services make to the UK economy to £100 billion a year by 2025.
Ofcom has also today published its approach to spectrum sharing to promote further innovation and the efficient use of this valuable resource. Ofcom is already supporting trials of ‘white space’ technology, a new concept that allows spectrum sharing and which can be used in a wide range of fields such as transport, energy, healthcare and agriculture.
The Spectrum Management Strategy has examined approaches to enable use of sharing by a wide range of sectors. As the intensity of spectrum use increases, with greater levels of sharing between different uses, managing the co-existence between services will become more important. Ofcom plans to meet this challenge in the following ways:
– exploring opportunities for new types of spectrum sharing;
– managing the co-existence of different services and by promoting technology improvements that minimise interference;
– providing more information on how spectrum is used in the UK. As part of this, Ofcom has published today an interactive spectrum map providing easy-to-access details on how different frequencies are used in the UK; and
– leading discussions on international spectrum issues.
Six priorities for spectrum management
Ofcom has identified six priority areas for future spectrum use. They are:
1. Future mobile data demands: Ofcom will consider the potential impact these demands have on other users of spectrum. Ofcom will also contribute to international decisions, examine in detail the case for using more spectrum for mobile data, support improvements in mobile coverage and monitor developments towards 5G technology.
2. The future of the 700MHz band and free-to-view TV: Ofcom is investigating the potential to rearrange the bands used for digital terrestrial TV. This could release more of this prime spectrum for mobile broadband use sometime after 2018, while ensuring that viewers would continue to benefit from digital terrestrial TV.
3. Public sector spectrum release: Ofcom will support the Government in achieving its target to release 500 MHz of spectrum from the public sector. A first step will be the release of spectrum at 2.3 and 3.4 GHz, currently held by the Ministry of Defence.
4. Programme Making and Special Events: Ofcom is working with PMSE stakeholders to understand their current and future spectrum demands for wireless microphones and cameras.
5.Machine-to-Machine applications: Ofcom has started work to understand the implications of the expected growth in M2M. Enabling licence exempt access to the 870-915 MHz band is a first step towards ensuring spectrum availability to support innovation in this area. The UK is among the first countries globally to release spectrum that can support M2M communications.
6.The emergency services: Ofcom will support the Government is assessing how best to deliver the wireless communications needs of the emergency services over the long term.
Encouraging the wider use of spectrum sharing
In the UK, half of all adults own a smartphone and one in four households has a tablet computer, fuelling a surge in demand for more data capacity. Meanwhile, research commissioned by Ofcom found that by 2022 over 350 million additional devices in the UK – including cars, crop sensors and washing machines – are also likely be connected to the internet, many using tiny slivers of spectrum.
To help meet this demand and building on our existing work to open up TV white spaces for use by a range of innovative services, Ofcom has identified three key areas where spectrum sharing can play an important role:
* for indoor use: by continuing to provide high speed wireless network connectivity to ensure that consumers can fully benefit from the increasing availability of superfast broadband;
* for outdoor use: by increasing the supply of spectrum for use by a growing number of small mobile broadband cells, which are being deployed to help meet the growth in demand for mobile data capacity driven by the increasing use of smartphones and tablets; and for
* the internet of things (IoT) use: by helping provide the spectrum needed to support growth and innovation in the emerging IoT sector, which is set to see hundreds of millions of devices become wirelessly interconnected by the end of the decade. These new services have the potential to provide benefits across a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, energy distribution, transport and agriculture.
Ed Richards, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, said: “As we move to an increasingly digital infrastructure across our economy it is wireless services which offer some of the most exciting opportunities for growth and innovation. Our spectrum management strategy is aimed at ensuring the regulatory approach helps the UK take as many of these opportunities as possible.
“We are looking forward to working closely with people and organisations across the UK and beyond who share our ambitions for this crucial and growing area.”