Ofcom works fast to keep hospitals connected

21 May 2020

Ofcom’s Spectrum licensing and technical assignment teams recently worked at lightning speed to turn around a radio licence request for two UK hospitals as they fought to treat patients suffering from the coronavirus (Covid-19).

A radio link was needed so Salford Royal and Oaklands hospitals in Manchester could be connected to each other as they moved 30 beds into a new ward to free up vital space for patients.

In a situation like this, hospitals use radio equipment to communicate between locations. However, this equipment requires a licence between locations which requires a licence to operate. Ofcom issues these licences, which can be done only after we make sure the radio equipment won’t interfere with other technology already in use.

If radio equipment is used without a licence, it could be using frequencies already licensed to other users, or in parts of the spectrum used by other services. This could cause harmful interference.

In this instance the licence request had to be processed in record time – much faster than the typical lead time which could be up to three weeks – due to the urgency of the situation facing the hospitals.

At the moment, teams across Ofcom are prioritising cases related to the coronavirus, so the two Ofcom teams involved were able to rush through the request in a day.

Neil Rynn

Neil Rynn, licensing team manager, says: “A licence typically takes between 16 and 21 days from start to finish.
“Here, we worked closely with a third party that set up the connection for the Trust that manages the hospitals. In addition, we re-prioritised other work and freed up resources to complete the request as quickly as possible.”

Granting the licence

Leanne Hodson, also from our licensing team, added: “We handle licence requests that come in from customers, which provide details of the frequency and bandwidth that will be used, and what equipment it’s needed for.

“First, I check the application and make sure everything is in order before I create the licence. Once it’s built, I send on to our technical team. They will check if the requested spectrum or frequencies are available for use to minimise the risk of interference, and then the licence is granted. Once payment is received, the customer’s licence is live. In this instance, we did it in a day.”

Spectrum and assignment engineer Michelle Holmes adds: “I deal with the technical element of the licensing process, which involves making sure frequencies have been assigned correctly. My role is to check details have been entered correctly by the licensing team and process the application in our assignment tool. We’ve also since handled urgent requests from hospitals in Chelmsford and Crewe.”

Thanks from the hospitals

The fast turnaround was a great result for the hospitals, enabling them to re-organise important equipment and resources at an extremely challenging time.

Geoff Winrow, network manager at Salford Royal, says: “We moved 30 beds into the new ward and the link is working perfectly. To get a radio fully functioning in less than four working days is an impressive achievement and has enabled the trust to free up vital bed space on the main hospital site to treat COVID-19 patients.

“Please pass on our thanks, especially to Ofcom.”

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.