New Ofcom proposals to spur wireless innovation in the UK

04 December 2020

Ofcom is proposing to make it easier for companies and individuals to innovate and launch new wireless services, by changing how they’re allowed to access the radio spectrum.

All wireless technology uses the radio spectrum – this includes the tech that we use every day like our smartphones and home wifi. It also includes things that we don’t see every day, but which play an important part in our lives – such as technology that monitors the climate from space, controls robots in factories or helps ambulances to find people quickly in an emergency.

We think there’s potential for many more exciting uses over the next decade, including helping to drive productivity in industry, supporting advances in healthcare, allowing public services to introduce new ways to do their work, and even enabling high-tech farms.

So, we’ve been looking at what we could do differently to help this happen.

We’re proposing to make it even easier for companies, public bodies and others to access spectrum for experimental uses.

In 2019 we launched our spectrum sharing framework to enable access to spectrum that wasn’t being used or could be shared between users. We’re also proposing to offer more licence options to people and organisations who want to make use of local wireless services - these are private networks that cover just one area, rather than relying on a national network. Examples of this include farms using them to monitor crops and livestock, or a factory having its own high-speed communications network.

With so many services likely to rely on spectrum in the future, and only a limited amount of it to go round, it will be even more important to share it effectively between different users. This is why we’re proposing these changes.

We believe our proposals will help to spur innovation and new services for people across the UK, and we’re inviting you to tell us your thoughts on our plans to help shape wireless communications for the future.

This is part of our ongoing work to support wireless innovation, by giving organisations and people access to the spectrum they need.

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.