UK urged to embrace spectrum sharing, relax regulation to help it on road to 5G

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The UK should consider spectrum sharing, relaxing rules on bandwidths and opening up frequencies to niche players in order to improve "languishing" rates of connectivity, a new UK government report has claimed.

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which was tasked in March to look at what needed to be done to take advantage of future 5G services, said more needs to be done to ensure infrastructure across rail, roads and cities is fit for purpose by 2025.

It cited OpenSignal's State of LTE report from last month, which placed the UK 54th for LTE availability.

The NIC made seven recommendations to improve the state of the UK market, most notably relaxing the regulatory framework in the country.

It recommended regulator Ofcom take steps by the end of next year to make sure there is greater access and interoperability with technology developments.

The report said: "Government and Ofcom should review how unlicensed, lightly licensed spectrum, spectrum sharing and similar approaches can be utilised for higher frequencies to maximise access to the radio spectrum."

It raised the possibility of "businesses, universities and others" being given access to spectrum, even licensed spectrum, if required within their building but only if there was no risk of interference.

It also advised opening up future spectrum auctions to smaller players for them to access higher frequency 5G bandwidth. "Allocation of nationwide spectrum licenses to a small number of operators could leave large areas of the UK fallow," it said.

The report also advised Ofcom look at broadening current network infrastructure sharing programmes to include 4G. Both O2 and Vodafone and Three and EE have 3G infrastructure sharing schemes in place currently.

The NIC echoed recently calls for more accurate metrics to be put in place to track the true performance of the UK market.

[Read more: EE breaks with the norm and reveals new landmass targets for LTE network]

It also called for the UK Government to determine which aspects of mobile services should be considered "essential" and put frameworks in place, whether spectrum license obligations, roaming, or cross network MVNOs, to enable a universal service obligation.

Infrastructure deployment, across transport and residential networks, should be rethought to improve connectivity, the Commission urged. It said the responsibility for digital infrastructure should sit under the remit of a single cabinet minister who can determine a cross government policy.

Lord Adonis, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: "5G offers us a chance to start again and get ahead. If government acts now we can ensure our major transport networks and urban centres are 5G ready in time to give British industry every chance to lead the world in exploiting its applications.

"But none of this will matter unless we bring our mobile network up to speed. The existing system does not provide the level of coverage we will need in our connected future. We need a new universal service obligation which ensures that the mobile essentials – like text, talk and data – are available to us wherever we need them."

The UK's four operators and Ofcom have been contacted for comment.