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UK commences frequency auction in preparation for 5G

The UK government’s communications regulator Ofcom will commence the auction of frequencies on 20th March in preparation for the implementation of the future fifth generation, or so-called ‘5G’ standard, for wireless communications.

According to Ofcom, it will auction up to 40 megahertz/MHz of spectrum across the 2.3 gigahertz/GHz frequency; and up to 150MHz in the 3.4GHz band. The 40MHz of spectrum will be made available to expand 4G wireless communications in the UK, with the 150MHz being deemed essential for future 5G standard communications expected to become available in the 2020 timeframe.

The roll out of 5G in the UK in general could have implications for the British armed forces. Although the auction of the 150MHz in the 3.4GHz band will not excessively impact military users for now, the future migration of 5G wireless communications to higher bandwidths could. For example, a report by Ofcom entitled 5G Spectrum Access at 26GHz and update on bands above 30GHz published in July 2017 noted that the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) currently controls a segment of spectrum in the UK between 26.5GHz and 27.5GHz. The report continued that the upper one megahertz of the 26GHz band “is extremely lightly used and is therefore available for deployment of 5G.” Moreover, the frequencies of 39.5GHz to 40.5GHz are also under MOD control. Typically, wavebands of 26.5GHz to 40GHz can be used for Ka-band satellite communications uplinks, among other uses.

The advent of 5G will place a premium on millimetre frequency bands within the radio spectrum, principally wavebands such as 26GHz, 28GHz 38GHz and 60GHz. Such frequencies will be integral to providing the high speed broadband wireless communications promised by 5G, which could see download rates in the order of up to 20 gigabits per second, along with the significant increase in the number of subscribers whom can be hosted on individual networks. Thus, it is possible in the future that millimetre wavebands used by militaries around the world could face pressure from governments keen to raise revenues through spectrum auctions to ensure 5G connectivity.

Thomas Withington

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