Mark Jackson

Ofcom has today begun inviting applications for their new Shared Spectrum Licences, which enables small businesses to create their own local wireless networks in radio spectrum bands (ranging from 1.8GHz to 26GHz) that could previously only be used by national mobile and broadband providers.

The change has been made possible by the regulator’s new spectrum sharing framework and could pave the way for lots of smaller mobile and fixed wireless broadband networks to be created in order to deliver local coverage, such as for industrial, farming or residential connectivity etc. The regulator is managing and coordinating access to these bands on a per location, “first come, first served basis“.

The shared access licences are currently available in four spectrum bands which support mobile technology – 1800MHz, 2300MHz, 3800 – 4200MHz and 24.25 – 26.5GHz; the latter is only available for indoor low power licences.

Ofcom currently offers two types of Shared Access Licence (distinguished primarily by permitted power levels) to cater for different types of use, which we’ve summarised below.

New Shared Access Licences

• Low power licence (per area licence): This will allow users to deploy the required number of base stations in a circular area with a 50-metre radius without further authorisation from Ofcom. For large sites, people can apply for multiple licence areas to achieve the required coverage area.

• Medium power licence (per base station licence): Given the higher transmit power and larger potential interference area, this licence will be issued on a per base station basis and, generally, for deployments in rural areas only, where they are unlikely to constrain low power users.

Ofcom will charge an annual licence fee for both the low power licence (charged on a per area basis) and medium power licence (charged on a per base station basis). In practice this works out as £80 +vat in the 1800MHz and 2300MHz bands, and £80 per 10MHz in the 3.8 – 4.2 GHz band. Suffice to say that if you wanted a nice big 100MHz block then that would cost £800 per year.

For the 26GHz band, the annual licence fee is £320 and does not vary by bandwidth. Meanwhile short-term licences of less than one year will be priced on a pro-rata basis, with a minimum cost of £32 per licence.

Separately, Ofcom also announced today that they’ve worked with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to identify 168MHz of spectrum between 7.9GHz and 8.4GHz, which is not being used in a variety of locations and could help meet demand for fixed wireless services. As a result, organisations can now also apply for a fixed link licence in the 8GHz band via Ofcom’s point-to-point fixed link licence application form (only available in certain areas).

So far the only company that we know of to have made use of this system is StrattoOpencell, which worked with Vodafone to offer high-speed data via the 2.6GHz band in “remote areas without fibre connectivity”. Many more are expected to follow and mobile operators will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how this affects them (so long as it doesn’t cause them interference or serve to drive-up the price of spectrum in future 5G auctions then they’ll probably be happy).

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