Farmers, factories and business parks are some of the groups that could benefit from a revolution in wireless technology, following a decision by Ofcom today to open up airwaves to support innovation and enable new services.
Ofcom manages the UK’s airwaves – or spectrum – which are crucial to power services such as mobile phones, wireless broadband and connected devices.
To help promote wireless innovation across the UK economy, we have today decided to open up airwaves that previously could only be used by certain parties. We’re also allowing different groups to access airwaves licensed to mobile companies, but not being used by them.
Under the a new sharing framework, these airwaves will be available for local use by a range of other parties – such as small businesses or pioneering start-up firms. Ofcom is adding safeguards to ensure that these users do not cause interference to existing users.
The new approach could pave the way for a number of new services. For example:
Shopping centres, transport hubs such as ports and companies in the logistics industry may also be interested in setting up their own local networks, using the spectrum we’re making available.
As well as supporting industry to innovate, the sharing approach could help small communities – mostly in rural areas - where national mobile networks have yet to reach.
Under the new rules, villages, small business groups and other communities can apply to access airwaves which are licensed to the major mobile companies but not currently used by them locally. These could be used to support dedicated 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.”
We are making airwaves available in four ‘frequency bands’ on a shared basis:
Shared access licences: to apply for access to these airwaves, interested parties will need to provide Ofcom with details of the spectrum band they want to access, the amount of spectrum they wish to use and where in the country they plan to use it.
Once we receive requests, we will co-ordinate access to the shared spectrum on a first come, first served basis for each location. For each request, we will assess how those airwaves are being used, to ensure there is no interference with other nearby users.
We will consider requests for shared access to the four frequency bands by end 2019.
Local access licences: parties looking to use spectrum that is licensed to mobile companies, but not being used by them in a local area, can apply to Ofcom from today. Users will pay £950 per licence, which allows them to use the spectrum for up to three years – or longer if agreed with the relevant mobile company.
We have published guidance on these licences and how they work, including how to apply.