Ofcom has provided a timely update on its plans for access to both 5G spectrum and WiFi.

On 8 February 2017, Ofcom published an update on its plan in respect of 5G spectrum, setting out details of the spectrum bands that it anticipates will be used for 5G technologies and the likely timings for licensing.

In the update, Ofcom set out its expectation that 5G services and applications will provide faster and more reliable mobile broadband, help the evolution of machine-to-machine technology known as the “Internet-of-Things”, and provide more reliable networks with decreased network delays. The diverse set of 5G services and applications will require a diverse set of spectrum bands. In conjunction with other European regulators, Ofcom has identified three bands to enable 5G in Europe:

  •  Low bandwidth spectrum at 700 MHz: This is currently used for digital television services and Programme Making and Special Events. Ofcom continues to work on clearance of this band to ensure that it is available at the national level for mobile data by no later than Q2 2020.
  • 3.4 – 3.8 GHz which has the potential to allow wider bandwidths: This is the likely most common frequency holding for new 5G services. 150 MHz of frequency in the 3.4 – 3.6 GHz band is already set to be auctioned soon. Ofcom plans to publish a statement setting out its decisions on how the auction should operate following a consultation which closed in January 2017. Ofcom also intends to issue a further publication extending mobile use of the 3.6 – 3.8 GHz bands in the first half of 2017.
  • 24.25 – 27.5 GHz (the “26 GHz band”): Ofcom identifies this band as the “pioneer band” for ultra-dense very high-capacity networks for innovative new services, which will enable new business models and sectors of the economy to benefit from 5G. Ofcom believes studies on this band should be prioritised and has started a programme to look at how the 26 GHz band can be made available for 5G – it intends to publish a consultation in the first half of 2017.

Ofcom plans to auction the licences for 700MHz in 2018-2019 and some of the frequencies in the 3.4 – 3.6 GHz range later in 2017. It continues to consider other bands for potential 5G use and plans to publish a UK roadmap for all of the bands being considered for 5G in the middle of 2017.

The plan forms part of Ofcom’s overall commitment to ensuring improved internet connectivity for consumers. In addition, following its consultation on “Improving spectrum access for consumers in the 5 GHz band” published in May 2016, on 9 March 2017 Ofcom announced its proposal to extend Wi-Fi access in the 5 GHz band to an additional 125 MHz – 5725-5850 MHz (the “5.8 GHz band“) – “in order to meet increasing consumer demand”. Stakeholders are invited to respond to Ofcom by 11 April 2017 with comments on its proposals to allow radio equipment to be used on a licence exempt basis, as well as technical conditions with which manufacturers of equipment (such as smartphones, tablets and laptops) would need to comply in order to obtain licence exempt use of the 5.8 GHz band.

Click here to access the Ofcom statement, 8 February 2017.

Click here to access the Ofcom statement and consultation, 9 March 2017.

Aaron White
Aaron White
Of Counsel, Digital TMT and Sourcing, London
+44 20 7466 2188
Claire Wiseman
Claire Wiseman
Senior Associate and Professional Support Lawyer, Digital TMT and Sourcing, London
+44 20 7466 2267