Ofcom Spectrum Roadmap Will Deal With ‘Revolutionary’ Mobile Scenarios

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Ofcom spectrum director says it plans to ensure there is enough spectrum to cope with unforeseen mobile applications but wants global harmonisation

Ofcom spectrum director Phillip Marnick says the regulator’s spectrum roadmap will prepare the UK for “revolutionary and evolutionary” mobile scenarios, but has called for harmonisation of frequencies on a global scale to ensure demand for new applications, particular IoT.

The communications watchdog has identified ’25 times’ the amount of spectrum currently used for mobile and says it is essential there is enough spectrum available to support future demands.

“Mobile at the moment is growing. It’s growing into areas that not only do we not know, some of them we can’t foresee,” Marnick said at Connected Britain in London, citing connected cars as an example.

“People want to be connected. Everyone talks about a world full of clouds where you communicate all the time. This means you need to have wireless access every minute of every day and your devices continues talking whether you’re using them or not.”

Future of mobile

mobile applicationsAlthough Ofcom has no crystal ball, it looks regularly at mobile operators at home and abroad as well as analyst predictions in an attempt to predict demand and future trends.

Currently, most mobile applications are downlink-focused, but this could change in the future, while mobile networks are increasingly supporting devices beyond the humble mobile and are looking towards the next evolution – 5G – which could be commercially available by 2020.

“We could not talk about mobile without thinking further ahead,” he said. “Why would we worry about it now? What we need to do is make sure spectrum is actually available when it’s needed in the early 2020s.”

Spectrum demand

Ofcom is working to make some of the 700MHz band currently used by digital terrestrial television (DTT) available for mobile, while it also plans to auction 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz airwaves reclaimed from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) later this year.

The regulator has also greenlit the use of 1.4GHz L-Band frequencies currently held by Qualcomm and is investigating the 3.6-3.8GHz and 3.8-4.2 GHz bands as the “sweet spot” for mobile services increases ever higher.

This includes licence-exempt spectrum in the 5GHz band used for Wi-Fi and other services like earth observation satellites and rain monitoring systems used by the Met Office.

Marnick says these are “essential” applications that must continue to operate and that much of Ofcom’s activities are ensuring various applications can coexist.

“What we’re effectively doing is re-planning the television network so everyone gets the same TV service they want with minimum impact and change the way it’s transmitted and use that spectrum and take it to the market,” he said. “We need to make sure everyone plays nicely and by the rules. Licence free spectrum is important. Everyone uses licence exempt spectrum.”

Harmonisation

But ensuring services can coexist is just part of the battle. Ofcom is keen to take a lead in spectrum harmonisation discussions that will see the same bands used for the same services across the world – a far cry from the dawn of mobile where different frequencies are used.

Later this year, every United Nations (UN) member will have a single vote on how spectrum will be allocated on a global scale at the 2015 World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) – a process Ofcom is putting its weight behind.

“Our key objective here is not for just regional harmonisation, but can we for once in mobile, get global harmonisation,” said Marnick. “This might be important as we move forward, because we’re no longer talking about mobile phones. We’re talking about vehicles and other devices.”

“To make spectrum available, we need to negotiate with all 193 other countries. We have therefore identified a number of bands where think effort should be [made].”

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