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Ofcom opens consultation on extra spectrum for 5G mobile

Ofcom is seeking input from industry and stakeholders on bringing parts of the 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz radio spectrum bands into use to support 5G networks

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has opened a new consultation on bringing parts of the 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz spectrum bands into use to support future mobile broadband capacity requirements when 5G networks begin to be deployed.

A section of this band, which Ofcom considers high priority for 5G because of its ability to support a massive volume of traffic, is already authorised for fixed links and satellite communications.

A tranche is also owned by UK Broadband for its Relish service, but the regulator has now set out two broad policy options to allow 5G use in the rest of the band.

Eventually, this would mean auctioning off 116MHz of spectrum not currently in use, which Ofcom believes will allow for more efficient spectrum use and benefits for consumers.

However, after initial analysis Ofcom has concluded it would need to mandate large separation distances between mobile and existing users to prevent interference from causing disruption.

The first option would be to retain existing authorisations for fixed links and satellite earth stations already registered, and introduce conditions aimed at preventing undue interference from mobile services by restricting where they operate.

The alternative option would be to revoke existing licences for fixed operators, while satellite operators would have their licences removed or varied. They would still be able to operate in the band but would have to lower their expectations when it came to the possibility of interference.

Ofcom said it preferred the second option because incorporating large gaps in between spectrum holdings would potentially deny access to the band to mobile users over large areas of the country.

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It is shortly due to open a second consultation to hammer out details on the delayed auction of high-capacity 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum bands.

In advance of this, in September 2016 Three CEO Dave Dyson called for the regulator to impose a cap of 30% on the amount of spectrum that any one MNO was allowed to hold following the auction, as a means to ensure fair competition between the UK’s four operators. EE and Vodafone both own significantly more spectrum at present than either O2 or Three.

Ofcom has previously declined to speculate on the possibility of including conditions enforcing a cap on the amount of owned spectrum per operator following the auction.

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