Ofcom shares spectrum future thinking
February 9, 2022
By Colin Mann
UK comms regulator Ofcom has set out its initial thinking on how mobile markets might develop and how networks may need to evolve to meet future demand. Ofcom has also set out how it might adapt its approach accordingly.
Future approach to mobile markets
Demand for mobile services has grown rapidly over the last decade. People expect to access good quality mobile services wherever they live, work and travel. The mobile market has served the UK well, driven largely by competition among four national mobile network operators (MNOs).
Ofcom expects that growth to continue, with more demand for data-hungry services. MNOs will continue to play a significant role, but Ofcom also expects to see an increased role for other companies in providing mobile networks and selling mobile services. Given the changes taking place, Ofcom is considering whether and how we might adapt its regulatory approach.
Ofcom will take steps to clarify its future regulatory approach to support investment. Ofcom also proposes to set out more clearly how it has considered investment when making future policy decisions. Ofcom currently has no plans to introduce any new consumer pricing rules; but if new problems do emerge that require further intervention, Ofcom would be ready to act.
Ofcom is also clarifying its position on mobile consolidation. Its stance on a potential merger would be informed by the specific circumstances of that particular merger, rather than just the number of competitors.
Future approach to mobile spectrum
Ofcom notes that radio spectrum is an important and finite resource which is essential for mobile networks. Large amounts of spectrum have been made available for mobile below 4 GHz, but demand for spectrum is growing across multiple sectors and Ofcom expects this to continue.
Accordingly, Ofcom is considering possible future demand for mobile services and implications for spectrum. Mobile networks will need to evolve to meet future demand and deliver the quality of experience needed by consumers and businesses. There are a number of ways they might do this, including: wider and fuller use of current spectrum holdings, making use of planned spectrum releases, technology upgrades and deploying more sites including small cells.
Ofcom anticipates that existing mobile spectrum holdings and spectrum already planned for release are likely to be broadly sufficient to meet future demand to 2030 if networks adopt a range of strategies to do so.
Ofcom is inviting comments on both documents by April 8th, and plan to provide further updates later in 2022.