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Ofcom decides to enable licences in the mmWave spectrum

Ofcom has set out further detail for new licences of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum across the 26 GHz and 40 GHz bands, which will be available for new mobile technology, including 5G services. This policy update could deliver significant benefits to people and businesses in the UK. Ofcom's statement outlined significant improvements to wireless applications.

As well as improving mobile services – particularly in areas of high user density such as train stations, football stadiums and concerts - it could also support innovative wireless applications requiring large amounts of data, very high speeds, or both. Early indications suggest this could include applications such as virtual reality, factory automation, and intelligent transport systems such as driverless cars


Policy decisions

The key decisions include the auction timing, delayed to the end of the year. Considering CMA’s decision on the H3G and Vodafone merger, Ofcom will hold the auction to avoid the risk of an inefficient allocation of spectrum later this year. The plan is to make Shared Access licences available in the 26 GHz band early next year. 

Another point Ofcom highlighted in their statement is to award 15-year, fixed term licences to use mmWave spectrum. Licensees will be authorised medium power use of the spectrum in all of the designated high density areas. Based on the Shared Access licensing framework, Ofcom will authorise more localised licences within these cities on a first come, first served basis.  

Regarding the Shared Access licence conditions, the technical conditions will set a maximum transmission power limit for medium power base stations and low power indoor and outdoor base stations, with an antenna height limit of 10m for outdoor low power base stations.

Click here for more insights on Ofcom’s decisions on spectrum access. 

A final point considers coordination procedures. Ofcom will set conditions for mitigating the risk of harmful interference between all licensed users of the 26 GHz and 40 GHz bands once new uses are authorised.

Different treatment among the bands

In the 26 GHz band, the agency will coordinate deployment of Shared Access licensees’ medium power base stations (which will only be allowed outside high density areas), and require minimum separation distances between their low power base stations. New licensees will be required to comply with a field strength limit at the boundary of any high density areas.

Shared Access licences will not be made available in the 40 GHz band until 2028, removing the need for coordination until that point.

Conditions for mitigating the risk of harmful interference between all existing fixed links in the 26 GHz and 40 GHz bands and the winners of award licences in high density areas for the period during which they will both be authorised to use mmWave spectrum:

  • In the 26 GHz band, new high density area licensees will have new deployments coordinated and authorised by Ofcom. Outside these coordination areas, we will allow new high density area licensees to deploy without first applying to Ofcom.
  • In the 40 GHz band, coordination between award winners’ deployments with incumbent fixed links will occur throughout the period.

Following this set of decisions, Ofcom will publish a statement and further consultation setting out other proposals on the design of the auction, and a draft of the Auction Regulations.

Next steps

To implement the policy several other statutory instruments are needed. In particular, regulations to:

  • Exempt the license requirement for the use of relevant terminal equipment;
  • Make the new licences tradable; and
  • Include information about these new licences in Ofcom’s wireless telegraphy register. Next year, Ofcom will also issue an order specifying the number of award licences for the use of the mmWave bands in high density areas.

We encourage our members and the industry at large to keep updated on notices of proposed revocation in relation to any fixed links operating in the 26 GHz band which are either (i) in the high density areas or (ii) around high density areas and likely to receive harmful interference from new mobile services. Decisions from Ofcom will allow licensees the opportunity to make representations.

For more insights in the UK SPF activities and insights, please follow this link.

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