Is Ofcom’s Suggestion to use 3.6 to3.8 GHz Band the 5G Solution for London?

Ofcom Spectrum ConsultationOfcom Spectrum Consultation

In October of this year, Ofcom published a consultation document for using the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz band for individual and business mobile communication use. The ‘Improving consumer access to mobile services at 3.6 to 3.8 GHz’ invited consultations on using this band and outlined why they feel this is a good idea.

Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industry. It has a far reaching mandate and regulates all aspects of the industry, including what frequencies communication companies and government bodies can access in the radio-wave spectrum. This includes television and radio signals of all types, including the ones that allow you to make calls and texts from your mobile phone, and receive the internet.

So why is 3.6 to 3.8 Band Good for Londoners?

To understand why this is important, you have to understand the difference between low frequency and high frequency bands in the radio-wave spectrum. Lower frequency bands repeat at a slower rate than higher frequency bands. This means that in the same amount of time you can transmit and receive a lot more data on a higher frequency band than you can on a lower rate band.

The 3.6 to 3.8 band is a high frequency band, and therefore implementation would be good for London as data would travel faster than it does at the moment. Put in real terms, this means that streaming would be faster and more reliable, and downloading would be significantly faster.

Ofcom states that this should result in improved mobile communications and allow 5G solutions that will improve connectivity and speeds. Given that mobile communication use by business and individuals are growing annually at around 60% a year, this band is arguably just what London needs.

Why Ofcom Believes 3.6 to 3.8 GHz Band is the Future

An Underused Band
Currently, the 3.6 to 3.8 GHz band is underused. It is primarily used for space to Earth reception such as satellite TV, and what is called fixed links. This is where two points transmit data to one another over radio or wireless link. Currently this band carries only 35 fixed links, whereas other bands carry thousands.

Space to Earth reception is light when compared to other band, with only five sites using it under Recognised Spectrum Access for Receive Only Earth Stations (RSA for ROES), and fourteen sites under Permanent Earth Station (PES)licences.
In essence there is plenty of room to use this band to implement 5G and meet mobile use demand.

UK Broadband Licensing
UK Broadband has licence to access to 84 MHz of this band for electronic communication services. According to Ofcom, this will be distributed to mobile suppliers on a first come, first serve basis.

Harmony in Europe
Regulators and industry across Europe are in favour of using this band and it has been identified for potential 5G use. Ofcom, have actually identified it as a ‘high priority consideration’. This harmony between the UK and Europe would solve a lot of headaches for both business and personal use. Given the current state of play in regards to Brexit, however, it is unclear if this would result in lower tariffs when travelling.

Room to Expand
Ofcom’s consultation which is for the upper part of the band, could eventually lead to a further 116 MHz of the band being released to mobile suppliers. Ofcom believes this would be a more efficient use of the band, and it will help Ofcom fulfil its duties in regards to regulating competition and innovation in the industry.

Stumbling Blocks
Although this looks promising on the surface, there are two possible areas of contention and both relate to existing users of the band. Ofcom outlines two suggestions to deal with opening the band up to the mobile industry for dealing with the impacts of shared use of the band.

They are:

  • Existing users would get priority in this band. This means that newer users of the band would have to ensure their band use did not interfere with the current PES and RES for ROAS users. For Londoners this would mean they would receive a poorer mobile service quality. Ofcom has stated that future licensing fees for existing users would increase to reflect their priority status.
  • The second suggestion states that after a consultation period, mobile communication companies would be award bandwidth regardless of the impacts to existing users. This would result in a loss of service for existing users. Although arguably good for Londoners in regards to mobile communication, one would expect the existing users to take some form of action to prevent this such as lobbying parliament.

The closing date for responses is the 1st December 2016. Until firm decisions are made, mobile communication in London will still be at best patchy, and businesses and individuals will have to carry on enduring a poor service as a result.
Source: Ofcom

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