5G | Emerging Trends | Regulation
July 11, 2018

Ofcom’s 5-year plan opens up fixed wireless

By Ian Scales, TelecomTV

  • The United Kingdom regulator’s report on fixed wireless spectrum strategy aims to lower barriers to wireless network entry
  • Recognizes the importance of new spectrum and new business models to enable 5G backhaul
  • New chips, new spectrum, new regulations should mean a boom in new wireless networks

Ofcom has published a five-year plan for fixed wireless adoption in the UK.

Essentially, the UK regulator has come round to the idea that it’s necessary to treat all those little bits and bobs of spectrum, used mostly for fixed point-to-point applications, as a valuable resource to be managed to do the most good, rather than as niche cases that have to be carefully controlled.

In addition, it looks to a high-frequency public spectrum as being a critical part of the next generation, 5G-led wireless ecosystem.

‘5G is a great step forward because it potentially democratises the whole of the ecosystem.’ – Steve Greaves, CEO, CCS

The upshot is a report that, after an intense period of consultation, sets out Ofcom’s way forward to “ensure that spectrum is not a barrier to making communications work for everyone.”

It divides the spectrum concerned into three main frequency ranges:

  • Bands below 20 GHz: for longer links for both rural and suburban areas, as well as for applications requiring very low latency
  • Bands between 20-45 GHz: for mobile backhaul connectivity. It says it expects that the very high-capacity backhaul uses in the future will focus on bands above 60 GHz, but in terms of fixed wireless links, it expects a continued dependency on bands up to 38 GHz.
  • Bands above 45 GHz: It says that over the next five years, it expects greater focus and take-up in the 60/65 GHz bands, as well as continued growth in 70/80 GHz.

It says it’s taking immediate steps to enable license-exempt access to 14 GHz of spectrum by making changes to the regulatory regime in the 57-66 GHz range, as well as making new spectrum available at 66-71 GHz.

For greater detail, see the full report.

Ofcom’s approach appears to have been warmly received.

According to Steve Greaves, CEO of UK-based radio fixed link specialist CCS, it’s “very positive. It feels dynamic, and it was what I hoped we’d see from them,” he told me. “And it’s been quick: it frees a company like us to get on and get out there to fight (in the marketplace).”

Greaves attributes the apparent change in approach to the 5G effect and the need to support it – especially with the UK government throwing a lot of weight (and money) to push it along.

“I read a great quote,” he says. “It goes ‘5G is too important to leave to the mobile operators.’ The better way is to liberalise spectrum and get the technology companies to compete” over how it might be used to further the overall 5G cause.

“I have to say it’s quite an exciting time,” continued Greaves. “5G is a great step forward because it potentially democratizes the whole of the ecosystem” by relying on open standards and open-source technology for software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV).

So what’s changed?

“In the past, I’d ask about using radio between point A and point B, and they’d tell me what power I could transmit at, what modulation I could use: they were one of the most controlling regulators anywhere and they really stifled things. There was no innovation because you couldn’t get round any of this, but now they’ve come round to the view that the systems can deal with all of that detail, which is great.”

“[The Ofcom move] is not perfect, but I take this now as a really meaningful step in the right direction. Now anybody can build a network.”

The original version of this article first appeared on TelecomTV. Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

Ofcom's 5-year plan opens up fixed wireless

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