Ofcom opens up fixed wireless so that ‘anyone can build a network’

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Jul 9, 2018

via Flickr © Slipshod Photog  (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © Slipshod Photog (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • The UK regulator’s report on fixed wireless spectrum strategy aims to lower barriers to wireless network entry
  • Recognises 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 be viewed as almost marginal, niche cases which have to be carefully controlled. In addition it looks to high frequency public spectrum as being a critical part of the next generation, 5G-led wireless ecosystem too.

The upshot is a report which, 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’s divided 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 licence 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.v

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 democratises the whole of the ecosystem,” by relying on open standards and open source technology for SDN/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.”

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