UK spectrum crunch likely to lead to “contentious” solutions

LondonEveningThe UK is heading will face a serious spectrum shortage by the end of the decade if 300MHz of cellular spectrum and 350MHz of wifi spectrum are not made available. The warning came this week from Real Wireless, a consultancy that worked with UK regulator Ofcom on this year’s LTE spectrum auctions. It prompted Ofcom’s former director of R&D to suggest that traditional spectrum allocation models will not meet the identified demand.

“Although new spectrum provided in the 4G auction has given some breathing space in meeting new demand growth, we will face a renewed spectrum crunch in around 2020 without further action,” said Professor Simon Saunders, Technology Director and co-founder of Real Wireless. “The challenge faced by governments and regulators is how best to manage this demand and ensure that consumers and other wireless users continue to see an improvement in their service, while ensuring other critical services still have access to the spectrum they need.

But historical approaches to the provision of cellular industry spectrum; fresh allocation or the refarming of cleared spectrum have no future, according to William Webb, former head of R&D at Ofcom and president-elect at the IET.

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“Finding all this extra spectrum by the previous approach of clearing bands and then auctioning them is looking increasingly hard. Instead, regulators are looking to using sharing approaches, for example to allow access to military spectrum or to enable multiple users to share small cell spectrum,” Webb told

Saunders concurred, adding that “This will obviously be highly contentious and likely create an interesting tension between the different public and industry uses of the spectrum.”

While predicting Ofcom’s decision making is difficult, said Webb, the regulator’s recent consultations suggest that it is looking at spectrum sharing. But the opinions of the UK operators will weigh heavily on its decision, he added. “If they tell Ofcom that this approach would work for them then that will materially change the timescales and resource Ofcom put to this,” he said.

Telefónica’s UK operation O2 told that it supports Ofcom’s “intention to address the strategic challenge facing the UK regarding the growing demand for spectrum,” while its competitors, Vodafone, EE and 3UK, did not offer comment.

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