UK regulator wants to know how 5G will impact on fixed wireless services, opens consultation

UK communications regulator Ofcom has opened a consultation to consider the future of spectrum currently used by fixed wireless services,  investigating how these bands might be impacted by the advent of 5G access and increased mobile backhaul demands.

The consultation refers to assessing the impact on fixed wireless services in bands from sub-6 GHz right up to 130-174.8 GHz.

The regulator noted that WRC-15 – the ITU-hosted mega-meeting that meets every four years to harmonise spectrum allocations – identified the 1492-1518 MHz band (currently used by fixed wireless links in the UK) for potential usage as mobile access bands, as well as the need to identify additional spectrum for IMT/5G. Eight out of the eleven bands identified for study for 5G are currently used for Fixed Service applications in the UK.

In addition the W Band (92-114.5GHz) and D Band (130-178.4GHz) are being studied in Europe for very high capacity fixed wireless links with mobile backhaul one of the possible applications.

Ofcom said that developments in mobile backhaul will have the biggest impact on demand for spectrum used for fixed wireless links. This demand will only increase as network sharing between MNOs results in much higher capacity wireless links to macrocells. Additionally, any increase in high capacity small cells could increase demand for fixed wireless links above 60GHz.

It should be noted that Ofcom still sees fibre as being the go-to choice for backhaul to main hub sites, and where it is available, but it also sees an increasing need for fixed wireless links in managed spectrum.

In addition, as some of these bands are identified and potentially repurposed for 5G access, Ofcom also wants to study the impact on use of the bands for backhaul, given that the viability of in-band backhaul for 5G (where backhaul shares a band with access) is being studied at the moment.

Therefore,  Ofcom says it is essential for it to be able to “understand the impact of these developments on fixed wireless link users.”

In short, then, these factors – the growth of demand in mobile backhaul fixed wireless links, mobile backhaul’s domination of the usage of these bands, and the allocation of spectrum bands to 5G – mean that Ofcom thinks the time is ripe to look again at the regulation of bands currently used by fixed wireless services.

The Ofcom consultation said:

“Mobile data traffic has been growing rapidly, at around 60% per year, and we believe growth will continue into the future, spurred by increasing use of high bandwidth applications (such as video streaming) and technology developments such as 5G . The demand for wireless backhaul to support 5G and how this can best be managed also needs to be considered. Currently, the majority of fixed wireless links in the UK are used to support mobile services and therefore an increasing demand for mobile broadband will directly impact the Fixed Service sector. This has two main aspects: i) An increasing requirement for capacity in the wireless backhaul part of the network. ii) An increasing future requirement for additional spectrum for the access part of the network, in particular, in bands that are currently used for the Fixed Service.”

You can see the whole consultation here.