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Ofcom undecided on releasing upper 6GHz band for mobile or Wi-Fi

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has issued an update on its position with respect to whether the upper 6GHz radio spectrum band (6425 to 7125MHz) should be released for use by either higher-power licensed 5G mobile networks (mobile broadband) or lower-power Wi-Fi (e.g. home WiFi).

At present, there is known to be “intense and competing industry interest” in the regulator’s position on this topic, with some arguing for the upper 6GHz band to be released for licence-exempt consumer WiFi and mobile operators stating that it would have a greater impact in licensed 5G mobile networks.

Ofcom has already made the Lower part (5925 to 6425MHz) of this band available for WiFi under the new WiFi 6E and future standards (here), but the Upper part has remained the subject of some debate. The regulator has now decided to favour somewhat of a “no change” outcome in future discussions at the next World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC) in 2023.

Next year’s WRC debate is due to decide upon whether the 6425-7025MHz band should be considered for “IMT identification” (i.e. make it available to mobile operators) in ITU-R Region 1 only (whilst 7025-7125 MHz is being considered globally). Region 1 usually reflects Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Russia etc. (the upper band is already being used for WiFi in the USA). Passing such a change would not force Ofcom to follow suit, but it would make it harder to resist doing the same.

By comparison, Ofcom’s “no change” position at the WRC would not preclude them from authorising higher power mobile use “if that turns out to be the optimal use for the band“, which gives them more flexibility to adapt at a time when they’re struggling to choose the right position (also known as continuing to sit on the fence).

The regulator makes the point that, unlike mobile and its many spectrum bands, Wi-Fi is much more limited in its allocations (i.e. 2.4GHz, 5GHz and Lower 6GHz). The upper 6GHz band is so prized for this purpose because they are “not aware of alternative bands that would be likely to attract industry support at the same scale for the foreseeable future,” while mobile operators have more options.

So for the time being, Ofcom appears happy to adopt a wait and see approach with market development, before deciding in the future which way to turn. But next year’s WRC may yet be the deciding factor, as not every regulator may take a similar position. ISPreview

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