UK networks call for shared 5G spectrum

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UK broadband regulator Ofcom needs to consider new approaches to spectrum management to realise the full possibilities of 5G across the country, according to Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA (Independent Networks Co-operative Association), the co-operative trade association for next generation broadband services in the UK, as a new report revealed Fixed Wireless Access can play a crucial role in delivering high-speed broadband across the country.

Commissioned by INCA and UKWISPA and conducted by Plum Consulting, the report – High performance wireless broadband: an opportunity for rural and enterprise 5G – discusses the role independent networks will play in realising UK Government broadband targets especially in rural areas where investment in full fibre will take much longer to realise.

This, said Corbett, shows a huge discord between how Ofcom currently allocates spectrum by national auction and what is needed in order to truly benefit consumers, with many populations still missing out on high-speed broadband as a result.

“The way spectrum is currently managed means that large parts of the UK won’t get access to services promised by the big operators which tend to be the winners in the national spectrum auctions,” warned. “This means much of the spectrum is likely to sit unused when it could be used to connect entire communities in rural and hard-to-reach locations.”

The way spectrum is currently auctioned grants organisations exclusive use of parts of the spectrum with no obligation to use it.

The proposed upcoming auctions of spectrum in the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz band envisages national licences are likely to be purchased by large mobile companies for use in urban 5G roll-outs over the next 10 years. Corbett believes Ofcom has an opportunity to change this process.

“The UK’s independent broadband industry is desperate to help deliver high-performance broadband to homes and business, leading the way in full fibre and wireless services. But delivering full fibre everywhere will take years or even decades,” he predicted. “With access to the new spectrum band, wireless broadband operators could install superfast and even ultrafast broadband to millions of properties quickly and at a low cost. But this cannot happen without a change in how spectrum is allocated.”

According to the Plum report, Ofcom should consider allocating spectrum on a geographical basis with major operators bidding for valuable chunks in areas where it is economic for them to deploy, but allowing other players to purchase the usage rights of remaining spectrum in more challenging areas, where wireless broadband operators deploy services.

“With this approach,” Corbett said, “the Treasury wins, but more importantly, the UK economy and consumers gain too. 5G represents a huge opportunity – but if the way spectrum is managed does not change, there’s a real risk that the UK will be left behind,” he concluded.


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