Ofcom proposes new spectrum of regulation

Ofcom has set out its proposals to free up the radio spectrum in the UK with the aim of allowing the market to decide the best use for radio frequencies.

Traditionally, the UK’s radio spectrum has been centrally managed with some set aside for military use, some for radio, TV, etc. Today 95 per cent of Britain’s radio spectrum is still managed this way with only small amount set aside as the unlicenced ‘spectrum commons’.

Ofcom is proposing that licence holders should – within limits – be allowed to use their spectrum for whatever use they wish which may include buying and selling additional frequencies or develop them to make use of emerging technologies. Licence holders would also be given clearer guidelines on the limits they have on spectrum use – for example preventing their signals leaking and interfering across internationally agreed boundaries.

If the plans come into effect, It is hoped that by 2010 over 70 per cent of the spectrum will be subject to market control with only 22 per cent centrally controlled.

Spectrum trading will officially come into effect in the UK next month for such applications for mobile radio, national paging, data networks and private business radio. Other classes of use will become tradable next year.

The government watchdog also wants to extend the amount of ‘licence free’ bandwidth from the current 600MHz to a total of 800MHz representing nearly seven per cent of the bandwidth by 2010. This liberalisation would, the report says, give everyone in the country 100Mbits/s’ worth of short range services such as simultaneous HDTV, online gaming and web browsing.

The regulator says that loosening the reins on the kinds of technologies used by a spectrum licence can be made either by the holders applying for changes in the use or by making the licences themselves less specific.

However, technologies themselves are moving so fast that the whole strategy of spectrum licencing may become obsolete. For example, Ultra Wide Band (UWB) uses a broad range of spectra to transmit data but only low power. In the future, technologies such as cognitive radio will be available which simply finds a bit of temporarily unused spectrum and uses that and then quits.

Ofcom is asking for public responses to the proposals. The closing date to receive feedback is 15th of February 2005 after which Ofcom will publish its implementation plan.

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