Ofcom consults on enabling mmWave spectrum for new uses

10 May 2022

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced the start of a consultation on proposals to make a ‘large amount’ of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum available for use of mobile technology, including 5G. In a press release regarding the development, the watchdog said it is seeking to ‘enable opportunities for a wide range of users and applications across the country to access mmWave spectrum for new uses’. To that end, the consultation outlines proposals to make mmWave spectrum in the 26GHz (24.25GHz-27.5GHz) and 40GHz (40.5GHz-43.5GHz) bands available for new uses.

With regards to the 26GHz band, Ofcom has proposed making a combination of citywide and local licences available. In major towns and cities where it expects the highest volume of mmWave deployment, it has proposed assigning local permits on a first come, first served basis in the lowest 850MHz of the band, using its ‘Shared Access licensing framework’. Meanwhile, Ofcom has suggested conducting an auction for city/town-wide concessions for the upper 2.4GHz of the band. Outside of these ‘high density areas’, the regulator has said it expects deployments to be sparser and as such plans to assign local licences again on a first come, first served basis for the entirety of the 26GHz band. Meanwhile, Ofcom notes that existing fixed point-to-point links which currently operate in the 26GHz band could see interference from new uses, which would likely constrain deployments of these uses in high density areas. Noting that these fixed links could be accommodated in other spectrum bands, the watchdog has proposed revoking fixed link licences for the 26GHz band in and around high density areas, giving five years’ notice of revocation.

For the 40GHz band, Ofcom is consulting on options to make spectrum in this band available. At present the 40GHz band is already ‘block assigned’ – i.e. licensees manage their own deployments in their licensed frequencies – unlike the 26GHz band which is ‘Ofcom managed’, where it issues individual licences for each fixed link that operates in the band. Hutchinson 3G UK Limited (H3G), Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) and MLL 40 GHz Limited (MLL) all currently hold 40GHz concessions, although Ofcom notes that these do not permit mobile use. As such, the regulator said it is seeking stakeholders’ views on the following options: a) varying existing licences to allow current licensees to deploy mobile services in the band; b) revoking existing licences and reallocating the spectrum alongside the 26GHz band; and c) combinations of variation and revocation.

Ofcom’s consultation is accepting submissions from interested parties until a deadline of 18 July 2022.