Airwaves opened up to support wireless revolution

25 July 2019

Small businesses, factories and farmers could benefit from a revolution in wireless technology, following a decision by Ofcom to open up airwaves to support innovation and enable new services.

Ofcom manages the UK’s airwaves, or spectrum. These are crucial for services such as mobile phones, wireless broadband and connected devices.

To help promote innovation, we have today decided to open up airwaves that previously could only be used by certain businesses and organisations. We’re also allowing access to airwaves that are licensed to mobile companies, but which are not being used by them.

Under the new sharing framework, these airwaves will be available for local use by organisations such as small businesses or start-ups. We are adding safeguards to ensure that this doesn’t cause interference to existing users.

Supporting innovation

The new approach could pave the way for a number of new services.

  • Manufacturers could set up connected factories – using reliable, high-speed wireless networks to connect, control and monitor machinery.
  • Farmers could set up their own local network across large sites, improving communications between people and connected agricultural devices – used for monitoring livestock and crops, irrigation systems and smart tractors.
  • Business parks could set up their own networks without needing to rely on existing mobile and broadband coverage.
  • Holiday parks could help their visitors stay connected during their break, by setting up local mobile broadband networks.

Shopping centres, transport hubs and logistics companies might also be interested in setting up their own local networks.

Better connections for rural communities

As well as supporting innovation in industry, the new approach could help small communities – mostly in rural areas - where national mobile networks don’t currently reach.

Villages, small business groups and other communities will be able to apply to access airwaves which are licensed to the major mobile companies but not currently used by them. These could be used to support local mobile or wireless broadband networks, improving coverage in the area.

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom, said: “Wireless spectrum is a valuable, finite resource, so it’s vital we use it efficiently.

“Our new sharing approach will help more people access airwaves to create local networks around the UK. The benefits of this innovation could extend across our economy, from farms to factories, as well as supporting new technology firms.”

What is spectrum?

You can’t see or feel radio spectrum. But any device that communicates wirelessly needs spectrum – such as televisions, car key fobs, baby monitors, wireless microphones and satellites. Mobile phones use spectrum to connect to a local mast so people can make calls and access the internet.

Why does Ofcom manage spectrum use?

Only a limited amount of spectrum is available, so it needs to be managed carefully. Certain bands of spectrum are also used for different purposes. For example, mobile companies use different parts of the spectrum to TV companies. So, it needs to be managed to prevent services interfering and causing disruption to people and businesses.