Ofcom plans to increase airwave capacity

Ofcom has unveiled plans to increase airwave capacity, a piece of good news for mobile network operators going into the new year.

Two auctions will take place in late 2019 or early 2020. The airwave capacity is anticipated to increase by 22 per cent and 62 per cent in the sub-1GHz portion of the spectrum.

The two airwave capacities will be 700MHz and 3.6/3.8GHz, the latter of which will be most critical for the increasing demand of 5G. A cap will be placed on any auction winner with a ceiling of 37 per cent of overall spectrum.

For network operators like BT and EE, this may be an issue as a win at both auctions would take their share to 44 per cent.

The increase in airwaves with these spectra will mean that the UK will have raised its capacity by almost two-thirds, with the price being set at £1 billion to £2 billion. Discounts may however be available if coverage conditions are satisfied.

There has been a significant rise in demand for data in recent years. Ofcom has reported the average person requires 1.9GB per month, which is up from 1.3GB.

The regulator plans to introduce a low-powered, local licence and a medium-powered band for rural hotspots. The former will have a range of 50m for premises.

Eligibility criteria dictates that mobile network providers will need to prove that they have improved existing coverage and going forward, ‘good outdoor coverage’ will need to extend to at least 90 per cent of the country’s land mass within four years.

Further, connection must be provided for 140,000 homes and businesses that are not yet covered as well as increasing the number of new masts by 500 in rural areas for the use of 4G or 5G.

A consultation process has also been announced by Ofcom on spectrum sharing so as to encourage private networks in rural areas for industrial IoT uses and fixed wireless access where fixed broadband providers do not yet exist.