Spectrum

Ofcom is responsible for managing civilian use of the radio spectrum. Our work involves releasing spectrum for new uses as well as developing policies to ensure that the spectrum is used efficiently.

Ofcom’s priorities for 2016/17 are set out in our Annual Plan. Key spectrum-related work areas for the current year are:

  • Awarding the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz spectrum bands
  • Implementing the strategy for 700MHz change of use
  • Supporting Government in the expansion of digital radio
  • Implementing spectrum policy for existing licensed use (including a fees  review for the fixed link and satellite earth station sectors, changes to the DECT Guard Band licences and work on UHF 1&2 bands)

The Annual Plan also sets out our broader programme of ongoing work. This includes:

  • Studies to inform future requirements for spectrum (including a focus on mobile data, on the satellite and space science sectors and on fixed wireless uses)
  • Spectrum authorisation (including work on sharing in the 3.6-3.8 GHz and 3.8-4.2 GHz bands)
  • Spectrum assurance and enforcement

Spectrum management strategy
Ofcom’s spectrum management strategy establishes the strategic approach and priorities for managing radio spectrum for the next decade.

The strategic approach relies on market mechanisms where possible and effective, and on regulatory action where necessary. It also places specific emphasis on: exploring opportunities for spectrum sharing; managing the co-existence of different services and promoting technology improvements that minimise interference; providing more information on how spectrum is used in the UK; and leading the debate on key international spectrum issues.

The priorities are: future mobile data demand, the future of the 700MHz band and free-to-view TV, Public Sector Spectrum Release, Programme Making and Special Events, Internet of Things applications and the Emergency Services.

Mobile data strategy
Our mobile data strategy is our long term strategy to address the increasing use of data by mobile devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. There are a number of ways to increase the capacity of mobile networks to deal with this growth, such as more efficient technology and greater use of small cells, but use of additional spectrum is likely to be part of the solution. Our mobile data strategy identifies spectrum bands for potential mobile use and prioritises our efforts on these. It describes what we plan to do to better understand the possibilities for each band, and, where appropriate, ensure there is an option for future mobile use. We updated our strategy in June 2016 to take into account new developments such as developments in 5G technology.

Space Spectrum strategy
We have consulted on our space spectrum strategy, which sets out Ofcom’s proposed strategy for the management of spectrum used by the satellite and space science (including earth observation) sectors. These sectors deliver important benefits to UK citizens and consumers, such as broadcast TV, global positioning, communications to ships and aircraft, satellite imagery and information about our climate. There is potential for greater benefits in the future and, once confirmed, the strategy will shape the prioritisation of our work in these sectors over the coming years.  

Programme Making and Special Events strategy
We have undertaken a strategic review of spectrum requirements for Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE). The review has delivered a spectrum strategy to ensure users of wireless cameras and video links (video PMSE) continue to have access to sufficient spectrum to support their activities.

For audio PMSE the review delivered a new spectrum sharing option for low power audio PMSE devices such as wireless microphones with aeronautical radio navigation services in the 960 to 1164 MHz band

Spectrum sharing framework
Our 2016 Statement, A framework for spectrum sharing, sets out a framework that we will use to assess spectrum sharing opportunities. This framework will support all our spectrum authorisation decisions in response to growing demand for spectrum access.

The framework is relevant to any spectrum band and any new demand to use spectrum, but whether applying the framework leads to proposals for sharing in any given case will depend on its specific circumstances.

Spectrum pricing
In 2010 we published our Strategic Review of Spectrum Pricing, which set out the general principles and methodology that we use to set spectrum fees, known generically as 'spectrum pricing'. This review includes both AIP fees based on the opportunity cost of the spectrum used, and fees that reflect our costs.

Our 2014 statement, Spectrum Pricing: A framework for setting cost based fees, builds on the 2010 strategic review. The statement sets out our decision to adopt a Wireless Telegraphy Act fees framework and cost allocation methodology for licence classes where we apply cost based fees.

On the 3rd December 2015, Ofcom published an update on the public sector spectrum release relating to our decision to delay commencing the auction process until the European Commission has announced its decision as to whether the proposed merger between Telefonica UK Limited and Hutchison 3G UK Limited is compatible with the common market.


As part of our strategy to increase the total amount of spectrum available and support the growing demand for wireless services that will deliver wider consumer and citizen benefits, we are moving forward with plans to award 190 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands. This forms part of the Government's commitment to release 500 MHz of spectrum under 5 GHz from the public to the private sector by 2020.

We published a consultation on this award in November 2014. It set out two possible auction designs, a competition assessment and draft licence conditions. We proposed holding an auction and making the award by the end of the financial year 2015/16.

We published a further statement and consultation on 26 May 2015 including our conclusions on technical and non-technical licence conditions and auction design and an option of flexibility in the amount of spectrum we auction.

In October 2015, we published a statement on competition and auction design issues for the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz spectrum award, including the reserve prices that will apply. We have also published draft regulations and an information memorandum. As part of our preparations for an award we will also invite prospective bidders to participate in mock auctions.

In addition to the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands, we are working with Government to consider which further spectrum used by the public sector might be available and suitable for sharing with a range of other applications.

On 19 November 2014, Ofcom published a statement setting out our decision to make the 700 MHz band available for mobile data.

The 700 MHz band is currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) services, and White Space devices.

The change will involve moving these services from the 700 MHz band to other frequencies, while continuing to secure the benefits they deliver. Using the band for mobile services will result in significant benefits to citizens and consumers with better and cheaper mobile broadband services.

Our objective is to make the band available for mobile as soon as practicable, by 2022 at the latest. On 11 March, we published a consultation on maximising the benefits of 700 MHz clearance. This set out proposals which would enable us to bring forward the point at which this spectrum is nationally available for mobile data to a target of no later than Q2 2020.

We also published a Call for Input on 31 March on managing the effects of clearance on DTT viewers and PMSE users.

More information is available on the clearance and co-existence page.

White spaces are the name given to parts of spectrum that are unused in a particular location and time. TV white spaces exist between airwaves primarily used for digital terrestrial TV broadcasting (470 MHz to 790 MHz).

Use of these white spaces will allow devices to transmit and receive wireless signals for applications such as broadband access for rural communities, Wi-Fi-like services or new machine-to-machine networks.

Compared with other forms of wireless technologies, such as regular Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the radio waves used by white space devices will be able to travel larger distances and easily through walls as they would use UHF frequencies.

Following completion of a Pilot, Ofcom will now implement commercial white space use aiming for the framework authorising commercial use of white space technology to be in place later in 2015. This will enable the use of new wireless applications to benefit consumers and businesses across the country.

The use of white space technology will be one way of meeting the growing demand for mobile data in the UK.

More information can be found on the TV White-spaces page.

Latest Press Release

Ofcom gives green light for ‘TV white space’ wireless technology

Ofcom is keen to bring industry stakeholders together to discuss spectrum matters. We hold an annual spectrum event and other project specific events as required.

Our most recent event was held on Thursday 12 March 2015 to explore the impact of new mobile and wireless broadband technologies, including those underpinning 5G, on spectrum regulation and management.

Please go to the spectrum event webpage for more information on current and past events.