On December 6, Ofcom published an update on their current position regarding the use of the upper-6 GHz band. The update addresses an ongoing debate about future industry usage of frequencies within the band (6425 – 7125 MHz), namely for mobile communications or as unlicensed spectrum that would be utilised in low power Wi-Fi networks. The issue is still widely discussed around the world, with high industry interest mounting ahead of the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) taking place in 2023.
Ofcom’s current position is of “No Change” in existing frequency allocation, evidencing a potential preference towards keeping the upper-6GHz band unlicensed. The UK regulator will seek to establish a European common position around this by adopting a European Common Proposal (ECP) for “No Change” through the relevant CEPT meetings and its 46 members.
In its published position, Ofcom indicated that it recognises the potential consumer benefits in both high power licensed mobile and low power Wi-Fi in the upper 6 GHz band, noting that the case between both is currently evenly balanced.
Earlier in February 2022, Ofcom welcomed comments from stakeholders for a proposal to add the upper-6 GHz band to Ofcom’s shared access licensing framework for indoor and low power usage. Their objective then was to allow provisional access to the band while long-term usage was under discussion.
Mid-year, in June 2022, the regulator published an update to its shared access proposal in which a decision to not proceed was taken, due to the lack of evidence for demand.
Significance of the decision
Ofcom’s position opens the door for ITU’s Region 1 countries to potentially support a “No Change” decision during WRC-23 (Agenda Item 1.2 discussions). The Agenda Item 1.2 dwells on the identification of these bands for mobile communications, thus amending existing Radio Regulations. A “No Change” position means, if agreed, that Radio Regulations will not be amended leading to non-identification of this part of the band for mobile services.
The biggest beneficiary of this decision would be the Wi-Fi industry, as it would have the spectrum needed for Wi-Fi 6, and facilitate the increase of available channels to 160 MHz and 320 MHz in the entire 6 GHz band. The decision would therefore be vital for the development and evolution of this technology. On the other hand, the mobile industry could look for other mid-bands in which 5G development is achievable.
Favouring a “No Change” outcome in the upper 6 GHz band in the forthcoming discussions during WRC-23 will provide flexibility to respond to future market and industry developments.
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