Out-Law News 1 min. read

Ofcom to hold back ‘adequate spectrum’ for use by connected devices

A proportion of very high frequency (VHF) wireless spectrum will be reserved for future use by Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices, the UK telecoms regulator has announced.

Ofcom will also create a new category of licence specifically for IoT/machine-to-machine (M2M) communications applications, along with a “dedicated information and application web page” for those seeking spectrum access for connected devices, according to a policy statement by the regulator (31-page / 258KB PDF). The new licence will replace its existing ‘business radio’ (BR) licences, and will become available later this year, it said.

The measures will be introduced in response to the regulator’s September 2015 consultation on spectrum access and IoT. As well as assessing whether certain frequencies were suitable for IoT use, Ofcom had asked respondents whether there were “misconceptions” that BR licences could only be used for voice-only communications and not for data transfers.

“There was no evidence to suggest our existing BR licence products were unsuitable for M2M/IoT purposes,” Ofcom said in its consultation response. “However, we recognise that this may not be clear to stakeholders.”

“To address this issue we will be launching a new licence product later this year that will replace our existing BR products and make specific provision for M2M/IoT applications. In concert with this measure we will also launch a dedicated information and application web page for those seeking spectrum access for the IoT. We believe these measures will clarify the wide range of spectrum which is currently available to facilitate IoT,” it said.

The IoT is a catch-all phrase used to describe the increasing connections and associated data flows between devices. There are already more than 40 million previously unconnected devices able to communicate and share data via the IoT in the UK alone; a figure which is set to grow more than eightfold by 2022, according to Ofcom.

To address this increasing demand, Ofcom intends to allocate 10MHz of VHF spectrum in the 55-68MHz, 70.5-71.5MHz and 80.5-81.5MHz bands, according to its policy statement. Access to spectrum in this range would enable certain devices to connect wirelessly over long distances to the particular benefit of those in remote and rural parts of the UK, without affecting existing spectrum users.

Ofcom does not currently consider spectrum availability to be “a barrier to the development of the IoT in the short to medium term”, according to its policy statement. This is partly because the low data rates “typical of the majority of emerging IoT applications” do not require a huge amount of spectrum access. Currently, licence exempt devices including M2M can access spectrum in the 870-876MHz and 915-921MHz bands.

BR licences will continue to be available until the new dedicated IoT/M2M licence product is launched later in 2016, according to the policy statement. Existing licence holders should continue to operate as they currently do, Ofcom said.

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