To use any radio transmitting device in the UK, it will need to either be licensed, or have a specific licence exemption.
Information about applying for licences in the various sectors is available below.
Amateur radio, sometimes known as ham radio, is both a hobby and a service that uses various types of radio equipment, allowing communication with other radio amateurs for the purpose of self-training, recreation and public service.
If you use a radio system for your business, you need a licence from Ofcom. Business radio users range from taxi companies and factories, to hospitals, care homes, industrial sites and transport operators.
Ships’ radio is used for the safe navigation of vessels and for making distress calls in emergency situations. It enables communication with coast stations, port/harbour authorities and with other vessels.
The TV white space device (WSD) authorisation framework is no longer available.
This follows RED Technologies serving notice of termination of its contract with Ofcom. RED Technologies was the only remaining operator of TV white space databases in the UK. This means that automatically configurable WSDs can no longer operate on a licence exempt basis and that we will not issue any more licences for manually configurable white space devices (MCWSDs).
We plan to revoke the Licence Exemption Regulations for WSDs (the Wireless Telegraphy (White Space Devices)(Exemption) Regulations 2015).
As we said in our latest spectrum management strategy, we continue to explore ways in which different technical solutions, including databases, can support more spectrum sharing in the future.
‘White space’ refers to frequencies that are allocated to a service, e.g. Digital Terrestrial Television, but are not being used locally, so can therefore be used by other radio services and applications. TV white space devices (WSDs) are radio equipment which can transmit in the digital terrestrial TV band (470-694 MHz) in accordance with powers and frequencies communicated by a white space database (WSDB).
A WSD may be automatically configurable or manually configurable. Under the TVWS framework an automatically configurable WSD was not permitted to allow a user to modify the settings of the device and could be operated without a licence, provided that it complied with the terms of the Licence Exemption Regulations for WSDs (The Wireless Telegraphy (White Space Devices)(Exemption) Regulations 2015 (as amended)).
Devices that did not meet Ofcom’s requirements for licence exemption and which allowed a user to modify the settings of the device, such as configuring the device location or the antenna gain in the device before operation, were known as manually configurable white space devices (MCWSDs). MCWSDs were not permitted to be operated without a Wireless Telegraphy licence granted by Ofcom under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.
Under the TVWS framework, whether operating on a licence exempt basis or in accordance with a Wireless Telegraphy Licence, all devices were authorised to only operate in accordance with operational parameters provided by a WSDB which was operated by an organisation listed in Schedule 1 of the Wireless Telegraphy (White Space Devices) (Exemption) Regulations 2015 (as amended).
Fixed Terrestrial Links or Fixed Wireless Systems (FWS) refer to terrestrial based wireless systems, operating between two or more fixed points. Using mainly digital technologies, directional antennas and typically operating at very high levels of propagation availability fixed terrestrial links are used to provide network infrastructure and customer access applications across a wide range of frequency bands, currently ranging from 450MHz to 86GHz.
The 5.8 GHz licence (5725 – 5850 MHz band) can allow point-to-multipoint equipment for WISP solutions, broadband internet access, and IP video surveillance.
Maritime radio enables ship stations to communicate with each other and with shore stations, primarily for the safety of human life and the protection of vessels. Its main uses include:
- Ship stations (at sea)
- Coast stations (on land)
- Navigation aids and radar
- Automatic identification system
- Search and rescue (distress, urgency and safety)
Spectrum for mobile phones and wireless broadband is generally awarded via auction.
A local access licence is a mechanism that enables the shared use of spectrum which is already licensed on a national basis to mobile network operators (MNOs), in locations where a particular frequency is not being used.
In July 2019, we introduced a new licensing approach through spectrum sharing which provides localised access to spectrum bands that can support mobile technology. This allows more people and businesses to use spectrum from a choice of frequency bands and could support growth and innovation across a range of sectors.
We made the shared access licence available in four spectrum bands which support mobile technology:
- 1800 MHz band: 1781.7 to 1785 MHz paired with 1876.7 to 1880 MHz;
- 2300 MHz band: 2390 to 2400 MHz;
- 3800 to 4200 MHz band; and
- 24.25-26.5 GHz. This band is only available for indoor low power licences.
Two types of licences are available:
- Low power licence. This authorises users to deploy as many base stations as they require within a circular area with a radius of 50 metres as well as the associated fixed, nomadic or mobile terminals connected to the base stations operating within the area.
- Medium power licence. This authorises a single base station and the associated fixed, nomadic or mobile terminals connected to the base station.
In October 2020, we introduced a new licensing approach for accessing radio spectrum above 100 GHz.
The Spectrum Access: EHF licence provides access to the following band on a licensed basis:
- 116-122 GHz
- 174.8-182 GHz
- 185-190 GHz
The licence is intended to encourage innovators and businesses to develop and use technologies in these higher frequencies.
Non-operational licensing enables the use of radio spectrum to promote the development and trialling of innovative uses of the radio spectrum in the UK.
- the testing and development of wireless telegraphy (radio) equipment;
- scientific research and experimentation; and
- trials and demonstrations of radio apparatus.
It does not allow any sort of commercial or operational usage.
See the innovation licensing portal for more information.
Ofcom has, in the past, issued licences to allow the use of mobile technologies on oil rigs and wind farms, in areas not covered under the territorial extent of the network operator licences, by creating bespoke one-off licences. However, with the increasing number of requests for access to spectrum offshore, it has become apparent that a standardised licence product, covering all bands, should be developed. The Spectrum Access Offshore Mobile licence covers all the ‘mobile bands’ (800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2100 MHz, 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz) but only for areas not covered by the rights granted to existing mobile network operators. For most licences this will be outside the 12 nautical mile limit, but for licences issued as part of the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz award will cover any offshore deployments, subject to coordination with the Ministry of Defence.
This licence product authorises use of spectrum on a strictly non-protection/ non-interference basis, and licensees will have to coordinate between themselves to resolve any problems that arise. There is no restriction on the number of licences that Ofcom will issue, and none of the licences will be technically coordinated by Ofcom. This licence also requires the licensee to meet the transmission levels at the UK coast, as set out in internationally agreed coordination agreements, when deploying systems.
If you are using wireless microphones, talkback (walkie-talkies) and production services for radio and TV, you will need a Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) licence. These are required by law if directly associated with a performance or event.
A satellite earth station is a type of radio equipment used to communicate with a space station (satellite) from the Earth's surface. They can provide telephony, data, backhaul, broadcast feeder links and two-way business/consume broadband or corporate type communications.
Short-range device (SRD) is a general term applied to various radio devices designed to operate usually on a licence-exempt basis, over short range and at low power levels.
The following short range devices require a licence from Ofcom:
- Ground probing radar
- Radar level gauges
- High duty cycle network relay points
Enhanced Long-Range Navigation (eLoran) is a terrestrial-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) system that uses transmitters operating within the 90-110 kHz low frequency band.