UK comms regulator Ofcom has finally decided it might be an idea to make millimetre wave spectrum available for 5G networks to use.

Ofcom began mulling the prospect last May and, in a process that would make its contemporaries in the EU proud, took ten months to decide a further consultation on the matter is required. Specifically, it needs to work out the best way of getting existing license-holders to hand over their spectrum and what form the inevitable auction should take.

“We have decided to make over 6 GHz of millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum available across the 26 GHz (24.25-27.5 GHz) and 40 GHz (40.5 GHz-43.5 GHz) bands for mobile technology, including 5G,” says the Ofcom update. “This spectrum has the potential to deliver significant benefits by enabling large increases in wireless data capacity and speeds, and we want to provide industry with certainty of access to this spectrum to enable timely investment and innovation.”

The (redacted) statement is a 238-page monster. The previous months of mulling have given Ofcom the insight that mmWave is mainly used to boost capacity in exceptionally high-density environments. Interestingly it’s not applying the auction model to ‘local’ licenses, only those covering entire cities and towns. This presumably applies to things like stadia, malls, and airports.

The wide area licenses will be awarded in the 25.10-27.50 GHz, while high density local ones will be in the 24.45-25.10 GHz range. There will also be local licenses offered for the same frequencies as the wide area ones, so it will be interesting to see how Ofcom handles potential competing providers in the same band. Maybe the local license will only go to bands that weren’t acquired in the wide band auction.

“In the 40 GHz band, we are minded to make the whole of the band available for auctioned citywide licences in high density areas, and to make the whole band available for local first come, first served licences, using our Shared Access licensing framework, in the rest of the country,” says the statement.

The mmWave spectrum will probably be offered in 100 MHz lots. “…reserve prices would fall within the range £0.25m to £2m per lot; our current view is that reserve prices of £1m for 26 GHz and £0.5m for 40 GHz would be appropriate,” says the statement. It also notes that there will be no competition measures included in the process. Ofcom reckons 15 years is the right term for the licenses, which is less than the usual 20 years.

So now we need another consultation on the stuff detailed in this statement. Interested parties are invited to submit responses by 22 May 2023. Our first impression is that the process seems needlessly complex, perhaps deliberately so to justify the revenue-maximising auction format. It also feels a bit risky, given how impoverished operators seem to feel these days, and it would be amusing if none of them bid in the auction.

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