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Ofcom lays out plan for UK fixed wireless networks

Telecoms regulator has set out a wide-ranging plan covering the roll-out of fixed wireless access networks in the UK to support national connectivity and other uses

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has published a five-year plan for fixed wireless spectrum as it looks to better support the deployment of the technology and facilitate its use in the real world.

Fixed wireless has been the subject of much research as a means to enhance broadband communications, and to prepare the way for future 5G mobile networks – particularly in the US, where operator plans for 5G deployment are much more advanced than in the UK.

In Europe, meanwhile, at the start of July, Orange Romania tested a 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) service in the city of Floreşti, giving a select few consumer customers, as well as a local supermarket, access to an ultrafast wireless network, which was put through its paces with great success.

Ofcom said its consultation on fixed wireless had shown the technology could be useful in multiple scenarios, not just in enhancing backhaul for broadband and mobile network base stations.

It could, for example, come into play to distribute TV signals from studios to broadcast transmitters; to connect nodes within private enterprise networks; to monitor and control the networks that run water, electricity and gas supply; or for emergency services communications.

Ultimately, though, the regulator predicted that “the impact of 5G in terms of the densification of mobile networks and the need for much higher-capacity mobile backhaul … will continue to be the main future driver for fixed wireless links in the UK”.

The resulting spectrum plan is likely to see fixed wireless assigned various spectrum bands, depending on how it is being used.

Bands below 20GHz will be used by those who require longer links for rural or suburban areas, or high-capacity applications over long routes.

Bands between 20GHz and 45GHz will be primarily used for mobile backhaul capacity at first, although this will possibly expand much higher, going above 60GHz in the future as demand for 5G capacity grows and backhaul connectivity requirements move towards the network edge.

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Over the next five years, the regulator expects to see greater focus and take-up in these 60-65GHz bands and growth in the 70-80GHz bands. It also found strong interest among responses to its consultation in even higher-capacity spectrum of above 92GHz.

Ofcom said it was taking “immediate steps” to enable licence exempt access to a tranche of spectrum in the 57-66GHz range, and hopes soon to make more spectrum available at 66-71GHz.

“In order to enable new technologies and facilitate new use cases in the 60GHz band, we are taking immediate steps to enable licence exempt access to 14GHz of spectrum by making changes to the regulatory regime in the 57-66GHz range as well as making new spectrum available in the 66-71GHz range,” it said.

As well as some of the implementation activities, Ofcom said it would also keep a number of areas under review moving forward. These include: to further consider alternative spectrum for low-capacity use cases; to further explore very high-capacity spectrum bands; to consider other possible uses of fixed wireless technology in higher frequency bands; to review other potential sources of spectrum; and to keep an eye on its licence products and services to make sure spectrum use is optimised.

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