Ofcom outlines plans to make mmWave 5G spectrum available for new uses

UK comms regulator reveals roadmap to take advantage of opportunities for users and applications across the country to access high-frequency spectrum for new uses

As part of its ongoing plan to assess future demand for mobile services and how mobile networks may need to evolve to meet that demand, UK comms regulator Ofcom has announced proposals to open a consultation to make a large amount of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum available for use by mobile technology, including 5G.

Explaining the reasons for its announcement, Ofcom said its principal aim was to enable opportunities for a wide range of users and applications across the country to access mmWave spectrum for new uses.

5G mmWave uses spectrum resources in frequencies above 24GHz to complement sub-6GHz roll-outs and offer the full potential of 5G, allowing mobile operators to add massive capacity to cellular networks with multi-gigabit wireless speeds and low-latency connectivity.

These capabilities will likely see use in applications, giving subscribers fast and responsive connectivity in areas such as fixed wireless, enterprise (such as offices and campuses), ultra HD video, security, precise remote guidance, telemedicine, smart factories and smart ports.

A 2021 report, The economics of mmWave 5G, by the global mobile industry’s trade association the GSMA, calculated that the adoption of 5G was set to grow to more than one billion connections by the end of 2023 and nearly two billion globally by the end of 2025. It said it the 5G opportunity for enterprise digital transformation was massive, with use cases such as industrial applicationsautomotive, robotics and healthcare.

Yet despite 5G roll-outs and adoption progressing quickly, and with the mmWave ecosystem showing signs of readiness, the GSMA also warned members that if they underestimated the role of mmWave in the short term, they risked finding themselves at a disadvantage to competitors when offering 5G services.

Ofcom said it recognised that mass market applications for mmWave spectrum were still at an early stage worldwide, but believed this spectrum has the potential to deliver significant benefits by enabling large increases in wireless data capacity and speeds. To this end, the consultation would set out proposals to make mmWave spectrum available in the 26GHz (24.25-27.5 GHz) and 40GHz (40.5-43.5 GHz) bands for new uses.

The regulator noted that one major benefit of mmWave spectrum was that it would give people better services in crowded areas, helping to overcome slow service by enabling significant increases in network capacity (the amount of data mobile networks can carry).

Ofcom also envisaged mmWave spectrum would be used to provide fixed wireless broadband services with gigabit connectivity, including in a wide range of locations such as hard-to-reach areas. This, it said, could give people in different areas of the UK better choice of high-speed broadband services.

Moreover, in the enterprise sector, Ofcom saw another benefit of mmWave spectrum in that it could support businesses with bespoke wireless needs. It added that such spectrum could be used to deliver private networks across a wide range of sectors, which can enable things like factory automation in manufacturing, smart farming in agriculture and secure campus-style networks on business premises.

Ofcom also noted that some people have raised concerns that mmWave services might have negative impacts on health as they would operate at higher frequencies. It acknowledged the view of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) that the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health, adding that any mmWave licences its issued would contain a clause that required compliance with these guidelines.

Ofcom said parties who wanted to take part in the consultation could submit responses using a dedicated response form.

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