BroadbandNetwork ManagementNetworks

Ofcom Could ‘Liberalise’ Spectrum Allocation For Satellite Broadband

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Easier access to spectrum, with provision of additional spectrum among watchdog promises for satellite broadband

Ofcom has opened up about its spectrum strategy in its ‘Space Spectrum’ document, in which it reveals its plans for satellite broadband provision in the United Kingdom, among other spectrum-related subjects.

Satellite broadband is considered as a key technology in the government’s bid to ensure that the entirety of the UK will be able to access broadband of at least 2Mbps by 2015, and potentially 10Mbps by 2020.

The document outlines the Ofcom’s plans for ‘space spectrum’, which besides satellite broadband, also includes space sciences including meteorological and earth observation satellites.

Fibre Broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012

Spectrum Allocation

As the UK’s communications watchdog, Ofcom is currently authorised under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 to grant both licences and grants of recognised spectrum access.

It also represents the UK at a number of international regulatory bodies and uses its position to influence the international rules that govern satellite use of spectrum. It should be noted for example that this is important as the benefits the UK gains from satellite and space science often depends on the use of spectrum outside the UK.

Spectrum allocation has always been a sensitive issue, with many competing technologies such as 5G competing for the right to access the limited amount of available frequencies.

To this end, Ofcom was asked by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last year to  provide technical analysis and recommendations to support the design of a broadband universal service obligation (USO).

So how exactly does Ofcom intend to help deliver a thriving satellite broadband market in the UK?

Well for starters Ofcom has pledged to enable the growth of satellite broadband by ensuring better fixed broadband options for residential consumers and businesses in the hardest to reach locations in the UK.

It will also seek to ensure better broadband connectivity (for example Wi-Fi) for passengers on aircraft and on ships.

Ofcom said that in order to achieve this, it intends to liberalise spectrum use to enable greater exploitation of new technologies (such as non-geostationary satellite constellations). It will also consider taking action to ensure the efficient use of the spectrum bands already available for satellite communications in the UK.

And finally the watchdog said that it will consider making additional spectrum available in the future if and when this becomes appropriate.

Ofcom admitted that the demand for broadband data services (in all locations) continues to grow and its expect this trend to continue. And it recognises that currently terrestrial fixed and mobile networks do not currently reach all UK homes and businesses. It therefore believes that satellites may have a role in meeting this growing demand in these hard to reach locations.

USO Options

“We welcome any role that satellite broadband could play in increasing competition in the provision of fixed broadband services in areas which are unable to benefit from multiple new cable and fibre networks,” said Ofcom in its report.

“However, we think the most important role for satellite broadband in the UK will be in providing connectivity to places which are very hard to reach using terrestrial networks,” it said. “In this context, we are working with the Government to make decent, affordable broadband a universal right for every home and small business in the UK.”

Ofcom said that its ‘future actions’ on satellite broadband will depend on market factors that are likely to become clearer over the next 12-18 months.

Quiz: What do you know about fibre broadband?