UK mobile operators could benefit from extra spectrum for 5G

5G Phone

The four UK mobile network operators (MNOs) could benefit from the allocation of additional frequencies in the 3.6 GHz-3.8 GHz band if the outcome of a new consultation by Ofcom is favourable towards such a move.

Ofcom already plans to auction spectrum in the 700 MHz, 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands to support future 5G networks, and also recently said it was considering the 3.8-4.2 GHz band as the first opportunity under a proposed structure for shared spectrum access.

It is now turning its attention to opportunities within the 3.6 GHz-3.8 GHz band, noting that this would include eventually awarding for mobile use the remaining 116 MHz of the band that is not already in use for electronic communications services. Interested parties have until Dec. 1 to submit their responses to the proposals outlined by Ofcom.

“National regulators across Europe and industry have identified the wider 3.4 to 3.8 GHz band as a potential first 5G band. This band can provide the large bandwidths necessary for new 5G services and is harmonised within Europe,” the regulator said.

The 3.6 GHz-3.8 GHz portion of the band is currently used for other purposes such as satellite services and wireless broadband services, but Ofcom noted that the “intensity of use” in the band is low. For example, there are a total of 35 fixed links in the band, compared to thousands in several other bands. UK Broadband also has a national licence to access 84 MHz of this band.

Spectrum is a hotly contested issue in many markets in Europe, especially with regard to new 5G networks, but the situation is particularly tense in the UK because of the imbalance of spectrum assets held by the different MNOs.

Three UK especially is in a precarious position, as pointed out recently by CCS Insight:

"The operator claims to carry over 40 per cent of UK data traffic, but holds only about a 15 per cent share of the airwaves -- an unsustainable position that has already forced Three to raise prices on some tariffs," CCS Insight observed.

Three UK CEO Dave Dyson has already called on Ofcom to implement a spectrum cap of 30 per cent on each operator, warning that EE parent company BT could use its financial clout to outbid rival mobile operators in future spectrum auctions.

Vodafone UK recently explained its plans for its existing spectrum assets in an interview with FierceWireless:Europe, but the operator’s policy is not to comment on future spectrum auctions.

For more:
- see the Ofcom consultation document

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Three UK CEO calls for Ofcom to level spectrum playing field to address BT dominance
Ofcom sets out spectrum sharing framework
Ofcom could clear 700 MHz band for mobile data use by Q2 2020