The role of technical R&D at Ofcom
Technology developments are driving change throughout the communications industry at an unprecedented rate, enabling exciting new service capabilities for consumers, and challenging both established and new-entrant service provider businesses. Understanding the impact of technology developments on the communications industry is vital to Ofcom’s role as the regulator and competition authority for the sector.
The radio spectrum underpins most forms of communication, from telecoms to TV and radio broadcasting, and much else besides. This is becoming increasingly the case as people begin to enjoy untethered access to converged communications services at home and in the office, and the personal mobility that comes from being able to access those same services when out and about.
At Ofcom, we conduct research projects to ensure that we are well informed about emerging new technologies and their potential impact on the communications industry. We focus on two principle objectives for our research, derived from our duties under the Communications Act 2003:
- enabling optimum use of the radio spectrum; and
- encouraging innovation and investment in wireless communication services to promote the wide availability of a broad range of such services.
A technical research programme biased towards spectrum
Ofcom regulates spectrum, broadcasting and telecommunications. However, our research programme is biased towards radio spectrum. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Spectrum is a key input for broadcasting and telecommunications. Satellite and terrestrial broadcasting uses spectrum directly, and broadcasters make widespread use of spectrum in making programmes. Cellular telecommunication systems use spectrum to link to customers, and even fixed telecommunications networks make widespread use of spectrum in deploying wireless fixed links to provide backbone communications links. Hence, in researching spectrum we understand many of the key drivers across all the areas we regulate.
- The way that we regulate fixed telecommunications and broadcasting requires less technical research. Spectrum is a scarce resource which needs to be carefully allocated, and where interference is forever present. Regulatory issues in fixed telecommunications networks centre more around interconnection and open access – areas where economic analysis is often more critical than technical research. In broadcasting, the regulatory issues are either directly related to spectrum or associated with content, and here, market research, rather than technical research, plays a key role.
- Historically, the bulk of our technical research funding was specifically targeted at enhancing spectrum efficiency. Under the Spectrum Efficiency Scheme (SES) which ran from 2003 to 2007, Ofcom received £5m per year from HM Treasury to use for technical research into ways to enhance the efficiency with which spectrum is used, or to pay compensation to clear spectrum bands.
Segmenting the different types of technical research
Under the overall objective of maintaining a clear understanding of technology trends and regulatory implications, our technical research programme is divided into a number of key strands: