HomeAccessUK’s Spectrum Policy Forum advises on UHF, 6G and ‘market mechanisms’

    UK’s Spectrum Policy Forum advises on UHF, 6G and ‘market mechanisms’


    It hopes its findings will inform UK spectrum allocation policy in the decades to come

    The UK Spectrum Policy Forum has commissioned and published three studies to highlight commissioned new opportunities as policy makers in Ofcom and the government face “complex spectrum policy challenges”.

    The SPF states that in the last 20 years, there are new technologies, markets evolved and consumer habits’ changed, which “have turned spectrum management into a far more intricate and puzzling realm”.

    It notes that 20 years ago, a “revolutionary market approach appeared to simplify spectrum policy looked to be simple”. Oh. Confusion aside, 22 years ago, the UK was the first to introduce spectrum auctions and raked in an astounding £22.5 billion for 3G licences – which is still an unrivalled legend in the global industry.

    As the late, great Maev Sullivan said at the time, “I wouldn’t trust them [the operators] to go to the sweetshop on their own”. It had a severe impact on them all for many years.

    However, at least the UK authorities did seem to learn that screwing so much out of the operators meant they’d less to spend on networks, so the main 5G auction only raised £1.3 billion – whereas the German and Italian authorities both squeezed more than €6 billion out of the operators in their 5G auctions.

    Review of mobile spectrum

    The first report is an “independent review” of mobile spectrum market mechanisms which the UK SPF says shows “there is a strong case to adapt and modernise all market mechanisms” including annual licence fees, spectrum auctions and spectrum trading. The intent is to ensure scarce mobile spectrum can drive economic growth for the UK.   

    The finds that charging annual fees to use radio spectrum is no longer necessary as an extra incentive to support economic or technical efficiency in usage of mobile spectrum.

    It provides examples of possible alternative approaches regarding how annual fees could be redirected to invest in the mobile industry to:

    • accelerate the improvement of rail and major roads with 5G; and   
    • improve the resilience of and sustainable power for the national mobile infrastructure.

    UHF spectrum

    Apparently nothing reveals how daunting spectrum policy has become than the future of 470-694MHz band whose future will be decided by the World Radio Conference in 2023 (WRC-23) ­–broadcasting, programme-making and special events (PMSE) and mobile are competing for it.

    This study examines four UHF scenarios for consideration by Ofcom and the government:

    • the status quo of broadcasting’s primacy
    • “co-primary” with mobile, where mobile use is restricted to downlink only
    • splitting the band between broadcast and mobile services; and
    • the transition to IPTV over mobile broadband. 

    6G opportunities in 7-24GHz range

    A third study looks at the feasibility of running 6G services in the 7–24GHz range, which is also in demand for fixed links, satellite services, military, maritime and radionavigation, and science services. This means there is not a sufficiently large contiguous spectrum likely to be available for 6G services.

    As is the modern way, this is not viewed as a difficulty so much as giving UK stakeholders and the research community the chance to develop new mechanisms and tools for better spectrum efficiency and more spectrum sharing. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    Luigi Ardito, Steering Board Chair, UK SPF, said, “We hope the outcome of this work will help policymakers to have a full picture of the most pressing questions in the current spectrum landscape, such as the future of the UHF band, licensing of public networks or potential spectrum considerations for 6G.”

    The three reports can be downloaded here.