UK plans for better coordination of spectrum reallocations

Out-Law News | 12 Mar 2014 | 9:53 am | 3 min. read

The UK government has committed to better harmonising the reallocation of radio spectrum used by public sector organisations.

In a new spectrum strategy (51-page / 856KB PDF) the government said it wants to double the contribution spectrum it delivers to the UK economy from the £52 billion annual input calculated in a 2012 study to double that amount by 2025.

To achieve that goal it has outlined a number of measures it intends to take to ensure existing capacity of radio spectrum is better utilised.

One action it has committed to is to ensure public sector spectrum releases are "planned in line with releases of commercial spectrum by Ofcom and taking into account international allocation decisions". The sale of "clear spectrum" used by the public sector is to be handled by Ofcom, which is the UK's telecoms regulator, it said.

Ofcom announced last year that it would arrange the sale of spectrum owned by the Ministry of Defence for use by others as part of a drive to maximise the use of existing capacity. Research has been undertaken to assess whether it is feasible to reallocate spectrum currently utilised by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Home Office.

In its strategy the government has also said it will make spectrum available for conducting research into new technologies, such as '5G' mobile wireless internet connections, and make spectrum available "wherever possible" so as to "facilitate the development of advanced communications technologies". It has said it will respond to the needs of industry.

The need for efficient use of spectrum is being driven by the growing demand for mobile broadband and other services, the government said in its strategy paper.

"Technology is changing the way in which spectrum is used," it said. "New uses, such as machine to machine (M2M) communications, will become increasingly important and will demand spectrum. We can expect to see a demand for more very short range spectrum, for devices in close proximity to communicate with each other. The communications path will have to be more robust than at present if we are to have safety and critical features dependent on the radio channel. This translates into such aspects as low interference, new spectrum, better use of existing spectrum etc."

"Existing users are also looking to use spectrum in new ways. For example, mobile telephony network operators now make increasing use of Wi-Fi to reduce the demand for spectrum on scarce frequency bands, and the industry is investigating ways that mobile users can share frequencies with other users. Our strategy for allocating and managing spectrum needs to be able to respond quickly to these changes. At the same time, we must take account of the potential disruption to existing spectrum users, and strike the right balance to encourage investment in current as well as future applications," it added.

The UK government said it would "develop a consistent methodology for assessing the full value of spectrum to the UK" by July 2015. The principles for valuation would be applied across all sectors, it said. In addition, it has committed to setting out "the assumptions and mechanisms by which government departments will pay for the spectrum which they need, release the spectrum which they do not need, and be able to acquire new spectrum for future needs". 

Information on spectrum managed in the public sector will also be made available at a single source, it added.

"This will enable the public sector to manage its spectrum more efficiently, and provide a database to underpin the determination of the charges which each user should pay for their use of spectrum," the government said in its spectrum strategy.

Last November, Ofcom outlined plans to liberalise more radio spectrum for mobile data services and increase the existing capacity. Ofcom wants to expand the mobile network infrastructure so as to serve the growing use of mobile devices for accessing the internet and downloading data.

In its mobile data strategy the regulator said it was committed to ensuring that the public can continue to benefit from DTT services but admitted that in future some of the spectrum used for providing the services may be reallocated for mobile data services instead.

Public bodies and major businesses, including BT, Google and Microsoft, have also been part of efforts to explore how the so-called 'white space' between radio frequency bands can be used for delivering communication services.

Earlier this year a group representing a number of broadcasters raised concern that they could lose out from any re-allocation of frequencies they currently rely on to provide digital terrestrial television (DTT) services.