Call for more shared 5G spectrum

Call for more shared 5G spectrum [Image: Georgijevic via iStock]

The chief executive of the Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) has called on broadband regulator Ofcom to consider new approaches to the management of spectrum for 5G.

Malcolm Corbett said this would help to realise the “full possibilities” that 5G can offer across the UK.

It follows a report by the organisation that found Fixed Wireless Access could play a significant part in delivering high-speed broadband across the country.

Commissioned by INCA and the UK Wireless Service Providers Association (UKWISPA), the report ‘High performance wireless broadband: an opportunity for rural and enterprise 5G’ examines what independent networks can do to realise UK government broadband targets.

According to Mr Corbett, this shows a huge discord between how Ofcom currently allocates spectrum by national auction and what is needed in order to truly benefit consumers, with many regions still missing out on high-speed broadband as a result.

He commented: “The way spectrum is currently managed means that large parts of the UK won’t get access to services promised by the big operators, which tend to be the winners in the national spectrum auctions.

“This means much of the spectrum is likely to sit unused when it could be used to connect entire communities in rural and hard-to-reach locations.”

The current rules for spectrum auctions gives organisations exclusive use of parts of the spectrum, but they are not obliged to use it.

Mr Corbett said that the proposed upcoming auctions of spectrum in the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz band is likely to see national licences purchased by large mobile companies for use in urban 5G rollouts over the next decade. He added that he believes Ofcom has an opportunity to change this process.

He said that with access to the new spectrum band, wireless broadband operators could install superfast and ultrafast broadband quickly and cost-effectively. However, in his view, this will not happen without a change in how spectrum is allocated.

The INCA and UKWISPA report recommended that Ofcom should consider allocating spectrum on a geographical basis, with major operators bidding for valuable chunks in areas where it is economical for them to deploy, but allowing other providers to purchase the usage rights of remaining spectrum in “more challenging areas”, where wireless broadband operators deploy services.