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UK spectrum sharing should be a spectrum policy priority, says UK SPF

UK Spectrum Policy Forum and Ofcom makes call for mobile spectrum sharing to be a policy priority as demand is expected to increase in the coming years

The UK Spectrum Policy Forum (UK SPF) has published a report on the state of play of spectrum sharing in the UK in which it lists six key recommendations for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and telecoms regulator Ofcom to meet growing data demand.

The UK SPF acts a cross-industry “agent” for promoting the role of spectrum in society and the maximisation of its economic and social value to the UK. Members currently include more than 240 companies and organisations with an interest in using spectrum for a diverse range of applications.

The steering board comprises of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS); telecoms regulator Ofcom; the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD); Digital TV Group (DTG); BT; Huawei; OneWeb; Plum Consulting; Qualcomm; Real Wireless; Virgin Media O2; and Vodafone.

The report drafted by spectrum consulting agency Plum Consulting, and in collaboration with the DCMS, SPF cluster 3 – The future of spectrum sharing in the UK, provides a snapshot of the current state of play and spectrum sharing in the UK, as well as the importance of spectrum sharing in delivering innovative services for SMEs and industry verticals, such as the utilities sector.

UK SPF expects demand for sharing will increase in the coming years, unlocking new use cases as 5G technology matures, and delivering key benefits and innovation across the UK’s economy and society.

UK SPF provides a summary of the product workshops on spectrum sharing held between 18 June 2021 and 30 September 2021. It shows how current shared spectrum access is creating the conditions for new players to provide innovative 5G services, and it makes recommendations on how to improve spectrum sharing in the UK.

The workshops and research programme were undertaken as a review of spectrum sharing in the UK and the extent to which current shared spectrum access is creating the conditions for new players to provide innovative 5G services.

Sharing has been identified as playing an important role in the market expansion model for mobile and has benefited from recent shared access licence options introduced by Ofcom.

On the back of the conclusion of the second assignment stage of the auction of 5G spectrum in April 2021, O2 and Vodafone announced a deal to trade bands to create more efficient blocks of 5G spectrum.

However, the research also warned that even though the UK has made good progress with the introduction of the Ofcom spectrum sharing schemes, there is a risk that if a future spectrum sharing roadmap is not actively worked on by DCMS and Ofcom, the UK could lag behind other countries prepared to move faster on the introduction of automated sharing.

The group added that the development of such a roadmap to maintain the momentum so far achieved in the UK should be a key spectrum policy objective. As such, UK SPF made its recommendations.

First, it advised that the DCMS and Ofcom should continue to develop an understanding of communications use cases that might require shared spectrum, especially but not exclusively based on 5G, through feedback on testbeds and trials and ongoing dialogue with industry and others.

It added that there should be an increased focus on facilitating solutions for provision of indoor network capability and the authorisation regimes required to support these. This could be brought about by streamlining the Shared Access Licence application process, it added.

UK SPF noted that concerns about neutral host solutions suggest that Ofcom should study industry concerns and provide greater clarity on regulatory and licensing issues. It further pushed the regulator to publish a scope and implementation timetable for automation of shared licence applications, and to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) for the application process to provide greater commercial certainty to licence applicants and address and provide solutions to the issues raised on technical matters and restrictions applied to licences.

Finally, UK SPF urged the DCMS to evaluate the merits of the three approaches emerging from the workshops, the counterfactual of the existing Ofcom SAL approach and research on the introduction of Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA) to determine the best approach (i.e. just move to DSA, follow a pragmatic roadmap, no need for DSA).

“Network operator’s requirement for more spectrum to meet the ever-increasing data demand, coupled with the increasing challenge for regulators to find usable frequency bands, is forcing the industry to evaluate alternative options,” said Abhaya Sumanasena, chair of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum steering board, commenting on the report’s findings.

“Spectrum sharing is increasingly viewed as a realistic means to help address the demand/supply imbalance. We are delighted to see the outcome of Cluster 3’s spectrum sharing work, which captures the latest thinking from the industry. We hope the outcome and the recommendations of this work will help policymakers to further develop spectrum sharing as a viable solution to spectrum scarcity.”

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