UK 'needs shared spectrum' for 5G

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The UK's telecoms regulator has been urged to rethink its policy on how it doles out 5G spectrum to ensure a fairer process.

A report from a leading trade association has claimed that the current method will mean that certain operators will be able to snap up large chunks of 5G spectrum, but only utilise a small part - leaving other parts going to waste.

This means that smaller, independent providers - such as those often covering rural parts of the country - will miss out on valuable spectrum, and customers may miss out on access to new superfast networks.

The most recent UK 5G spectrum auction opened in March, covering 40MHz worth of 2.3GHz airwaves, which can be used right away to support existing 4G services, and 150MHz of 3.4GHz of bandwidth that is earmarked for 5G in 2020.

UK 5G rollout

“The way spectrum is currently managed means that large parts of the UK won’t get access to services promised by the big operators which tend to be the winners in the national spectrum auctions,” said Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, the trade association for next generation broadband services which commissioned the report.

He says that the current Ofcom approach shows, "a huge discord" to what is actually needed, killing competition for many smaller providers.

“The UK’s independent broadband industry is desperate to help deliver high-performance broadband to homes and business, leading the way in full fibre and wireless services. But delivering full fibre everywhere will take years or even decades,” Corbett says.

“With access to the new spectrum band, wireless broadband operators could install superfast and even ultrafast broadband to millions of properties quickly and at a low cost. But this cannot happen without a change in how spectrum is allocated.”

INCA is now calling for Ofcom to instead allocate 5G spectrum on a geographical basis. This would see the UK's major operators still able to bid in areas where it is economic for them to deploy, but would also allows smaller players to get a foothold by purchasing usage rights of remaining spectrum in more challenging areas.