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AI, robotics, and AR/VR use cases to set pace in UK 5G mid-band

UK Spectrum Policy Forum releases results of study on the benefits of access to spectrum sharing in the 3.8-4.2 GHz band across transport, manufacturing and energy in an aim to increase adoption across use cases such as AI and robotics

The extent of the rapid deployment and development of 5G mobile networks in the UK is such that the conversation has moved on as to how to exploit specific spectrum bands.

Industry-led think tank UK Spectrum Policy Forum (UK SPF) has released a study on access to the 3.8-4.2 GHz band, showing which industries will be positively affected by a policy decision in the key frequency band.

UK SPF commissioned analyst firm Analysys Mason to explore the requirements for use cases in the 3.8-4.2 GHz band, focusing on UK regulator Ofcom’s current shared access licence (SALs) and local access licence frameworks and looks into the future innovative ways of using the frequency bands. Boasting support from the wireless community, the research addressed licencing approaches for local networks. 

A baseline of UK SPF’s research was that while there was increasing demand for 5G, spectrum is a source of concern to several countries, and that the UK was an international reference to regulatory approaches to making spectrum available for an array of services, including 5G.

The report stressed just how the constant expansion of 5G networks requires harmonised licensing procedures in the UK and European countries. As licence requests for the 3.8-4.2GHz band increase above other available bands, the report noted that there should be a focus on timescale management and coordinated procedures for authorising spectrum usage.

The importance of this will likely be seen in opportunities ranging from smart cities to remote healthcare to private 5G networks. The main use cases identified by Analysys Mason are wireless voice and data connectivity, research, and fixed wireless access (FWA). With SALs, the research said access to private 5G networks would be more widespread, with customising features that cater to individual service needs. These, said the study, were currently offered by Ofcom under a low- and medium-power licence on a first-come, first-serve basis.

UK SPF believes that the use cases directly affected by lower latency and enhanced capacity offered by private 5G networks include transport, manufacturing, venue-based connectivity, content-production rural wireless connectivity: energy and construction.

In detail, the study predicted rails, roads, airports and seaports would see an increase in efficiency for operational and safety as automated solutions were powered by the use of 5G technology in the 3.8-4.2 band. Rails, roads, airports and seaports could see an increase in efficiency for operational and safety while automated solutions in manufacturing are powered by the use of 5G technology in the 3.8-4.2 band.

Private 5G networks were seen as key to enable content streaming and AR/VR applications and improvements in real-time capture of video and audio would allow high-quality live broadcasts. In addition to boosting FWA and making industry able to access localised connectivity, the new spectrum band would allow smart grid applications to be unlocked, along with remote management and monitoring capabilities. Improvements in 5G connectivity would allow the broad use of drones and robotics in construction sites.

Along with an increase in applications for licences, a consequence of these use cases is the enhanced capacity requirements by the technological applications, meaning that most applicants would require the higher bandwidths offered by Ofcom – namely 80MHz and 100MHz.

Content production, 5G, FWA and the internet of things (IoT) were predicted to remain the key industry verticals to require access to the 3.8-4.2GHz band, and would likely have a similar adoption trend throughout Europe, suggesting more harmonisation between the continent and UK spectrum policies.

The report also stressed the importance of uplink in 5G. Use cases in this domain were aid to offer a potential increase in demand over downlink applications, particularly on the use of n7 band for IoT sensor networks.

“The UK Spectrum Policy Forum’s latest study on the 3.8-4.2 GHz band underscores the pivotal role of spectrum sharing in shaping the future of communications,” said Sophie James, head of telecoms and spectrum policy, TechUK.

“Our report sheds light on the intricate spectrum policy landscape, emphasising the growing demand for 5G and other transformative technologies, and paves the way for a more connected and innovative future.”

Abhaya Sumanasena, chair of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum added: “After pioneering work from Ofcom, spectrum sharing in the 3.8-4.2 GHz band is gaining significant popularity across Europe. A review of potential use cases and further recommendations to improve the usability of the SAL provided in this report will no doubt help accelerate the use of this band further.”

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