Ofcom to press ahead with radio spectrum liberalisation

Ofcom is to press ahead with its proposed liberalisation of the radio spectrum. The industry watchdog says it plans to go ahead with the first phase within the next few months.

Traditionally the radio spectrum has been tightly controlled in the UK. Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1949, spectrum was allocated on a per-licence basis which not only set the frequency which could be used but also governed the purpose to which it could be put. The justification being that tight control meant that interference between users of the various frequencies would be kept to a minimum.

Ofcom recognises that the pace of technological change and the competing demands made on radio spectrum means that the traditional command and control model is no longer practical for the 21st Century.

After consultation, the regulator has decided to relax the wording of licences so that they are not tied to a particular technology or usage so that licensees can respond to changing market conditions or trade spectrum more easily.

The regulator rejected the alternative option of simply making the existing licence model more flexible. This would have allowed licensees to apply for changes to the usage of the spectrum they control. Whilst this would have the advantage of allowing Ofcom to review the effect of any change on other spectrum holders, for example whether it would cause unacceptable interference, it decided that the mechanism would be too cumbersome and bureaucratic.

The first licences to be liberalised are likely to be for Business Radio such as private business radio and national paging services, Fixed Wireless Access and communications between fixed links. Later in the year Ofcom is looking to loosen the licence requirements for wide area private radio services operated by organisations to provide mobile communications for their own workforces. Looking forward, Ofcom hopes to extend the process to the 2G and 3G bands.

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