Ofcom May Create Thousands of Local UK 5G Mobile Networks

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The UK telecoms regulator has controversially proposed that it may reserve 390MHz of spectrum in the 3.8-4.2GHz bands, which could be sold to “thousands” of new entrants in order to help them build 5G based mobile broadband networks for local coverage or industrial use (i.e. each license may cover just 50 square metres).

The “revolutionary” idea has already been deployed in Germany, where 100MHz of mid-band spectrum was reserved for local and industrial use, although a similar approach in the United Kingdom seems unlikely to be well received by the primary Mobile Network Operators (MNO) like EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three UK.

In Germany the main operators blamed a similar change for helping to drive-up the price of spectrum during one of the country’s recent 5G auctions. Operator’s often say that the more expensive the spectrum, the less money they have to invest in rolling the service out and making packages affordable for consumers.

In the UK it’s widely believed that the high price of the early 3G auctions may have heavily stunted that technology’s development, before 4G came along as part of a more sensibly priced auction.

Mansoor Hanif, Ofcom’s CTO, said (Lightreading):

“5G is an opportunity for everyone and we’d like to encourage new entrants. We want to give low-cost access to local spectrum so that anyone who thinks they need 5G coverage on an industrial campus and feels it isn’t served by MNOs fast enough should be able to build their own network.”

The spectrum itself would be low power and probably only offered in 10MHz blocks, which in fairness would considerably limit its potential performance. Equally there’s a lack of supporting hardware in the market for this and some vendors may even be nervous about upsetting their primary MNO customers (i.e. when selling kit to smaller entrants).

All of this should of course be tempered against the fact that we have yet to see any official regulation or announcements from Ofcom, aside from their speech to last week’s 5G World event (above quote). We note that Japan and the Netherlands are considering a similar move.

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