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Ofcom sets out initial views on the future of mobile markets and spectrum

Published: 9 February 2022
Last updated: 16 March 2023

Ofcom has today set out our initial thinking on how mobile markets might develop and how networks might need to evolve to meet future demand. We have also set out how we might adapt our approach in this area.

Future approach to mobile markets

Demand for mobile services has grown rapidly over the last decade. People expect to access good quality mobile services wherever they live, work and travel. The mobile market has served the UK well, driven largely by competition among four national mobile network operators (MNOs).

We expect that growth to continue, with more demand for data-hungry services like streaming and video calls. MNOs will continue to play a significant role in this growth, but we also expect to see an increased role for other companies in providing mobile networks and selling mobile services. Given the changes taking place, we are considering whether and how we might adapt our regulatory approach.

We will take steps to clarify our future regulatory approach to support investment. We also propose to set out more clearly how we have considered investment when making future policy decisions. We currently have no plans to introduce any new consumer pricing rules; but if new problems do emerge that require further intervention, we would be ready to act.

We are also clarifying our position on mobile consolidation. Our stance on a potential merger would be informed by the specific circumstances of that particular merger, rather than just the number of competitors.

Future approach to mobile spectrum

Radio spectrum (the invisible waves that enable wireless technology) is an important and finite resource which is essential for mobile networks. Large amounts of spectrum have been made available for mobile below 4 GHz, but demand for spectrum is growing across multiple sectors and we expect this to continue.

So we are considering possible future demand for mobile services and implications for spectrum. Mobile networks will need to evolve to meet future demand and deliver the quality of experience needed by consumers and businesses. There are a number of ways they might do this, including:  wider and fuller use of current spectrum holdings, making use of planned spectrum releases, technology upgrades and deploying more sites including small cells.

We anticipate that existing mobile spectrum holdings and spectrum already planned for release are likely to be broadly sufficient to meet future demand to 2030 if networks adopt a range of strategies to do so.

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.

Next steps

We are inviting comments on both documents by 8 April, and plan to provide further updates later this year.

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