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Putting innovation at the heart of the UK’s wireless future

Published: 15 October 2021
Last updated: 16 March 2023

Ofcom has today published its strategy for how we will manage the UK’s airwaves over the next ten years, setting out how supporting innovation will be at the heart of our work in this area.

People and businesses rely on wireless communications services every day. They help to deliver our news, connect us to friends and family, automate factories and workplaces, support public services and allow us to monitor the natural environment. And it’s Ofcom’s job to manage this finite resource, to make sure it is used in the best interests of all in the UK – helping to make communications work for everyone.

Our new strategy – Supporting the UK’s Wireless Future – explains how we plan to do this, making sure everyone can access the airwaves they need to innovate and bring better services to the people who use them.

It sets out an ambitious vision that is focused on driving continued improvements for wireless services. It aims to help businesses and organisations with specialist spectrum needs to access the airwaves they need; providing flexible options to support innovation; and ensuring efficient use of spectrum so it can continue to transform the way we live and work.

Our spectrum management vision

We have set out our spectrum management strategy for the 2020s, our aim being to support the UK's wireless future. This means: continuously improving the wireless communications we all use, wherever and whenever we use them; allowing businesses and other organisations with specific requirements to access the wireless communication or spectrum options they need; improving the flexibility of spectrum use to support innovation, while providing appropriate assurances for continued use; and sustaining improvements in the efficiency of spectrum use.

To achieve our vision, we will be focusing on three areas.

  • Supporting wireless innovation: including allowing certain airwaves to be used for innovation while their long-term use is still being decided; influencing international standards and working with a wide range of organisations that could benefit from wireless services in the future.
  • Licensing to fit local and national services: looking at further ways to give organisations access to spectrum on a localised basis. This will benefit businesses like factories, remote farms and airports, which do not need to use spectrum across the whole UK, while still supporting larger services that need nationwide access, such as mobile.
  • Promoting spectrum sharing: encouraging users to share access to spectrum with others – including in higher frequencies – so it is used as efficiently as possible. New technology and better data can help support this – allowing wireless networks to be more resilient to interference from other users.

With the strategy published, we will be working closely with businesses, public bodies and other organisations to put it into practice and play our part in shaping the UK’s wireless future.

Collaborating to enable global benefits

A central part of Ofcom’s spectrum work is to bring global issues to the fore. Earlier this month Ofcom held an international virtual event – Wireless Future: Global Spectrum Management Challenges. This brought together 200 attendees from Europe, Africa, Asia Pacific and the Americas, to discuss the challenges of making spectrum work harder across the world by facilitating more spectrum sharing, and bringing about new wireless services for people and businesses.

The international nature of spectrum management requires a worldwide conversation, and more than half of the event’s audience was made up of overseas regulators and stakeholders. Ofcom was able to share case studies of where we have encouraged innovative approaches to organisations sharing spectrum, including opening up extremely high frequency bands for new technologies.

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?

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.

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