LIVE FROM 5G WORLD, LONDON: Ofcom’s CTO detailed the watchdog’s efforts to improve connectivity for rural and industrial users, including innovative approaches to ensuring spectrum availability.

Mansoor Hanif (pictured) noted MNOs are already doing a good job of providing coverage in more populated parts of the UK. However, more intervention is needed in rural areas, where generating returns on infrastructure investments is more challenging.

“There are a lot of people living in rural areas, there are a lot of businesses in rural areas, it’s a key part of the economy and industry in the UK. So we need to support and make sure they are not left behind, and so a lot of what we do is making sure the investment goes there.”

Ofcom is consulting on terms for future auctions and could offer licences at lower cost in return for rural access commitments: “We think it’s a fair incentive and a fair use of public money.”

Another possibility is encouraging community engagement in networks: pointing to the roughly 300 community radio stations, 1,000 fixed wireless networks and local broadband networks, Hanif asked “why can’t they, if they get access to spectrum, manage a 4G or 5G network?”

Ofcom plans to make available spectrum enabling “local and on demand” networks, a plan which is is “really innovative…really revolutionary” and will “put the UK in a wonderful position on the global stage”.

Local licences covering a range of around 50 metres would be available on demand in blocks of 10MHz, Hanif explained.

“We think we’ve got the database to be able to manage that demand, the average cost will be what it costs us to do the licence administration, so I think it’s on average about £70.” Applicants could request several blocks, depending on their specific needs.

Among the frequencies available is “prime spectrum”, including 390MHz in the 3.8GHz to 4.2GHz band, along with high band blocks suited to delivering high capacity and throughput in smaller areas.

With access to suitable spectrum, the Ofcom CTO suggested enterprises could build their own networks, work with third-party specialists, or partner with mobile network operators to ensure they have the coverage and capacity needed.

“When we are talking about 5G, we are talking about the operators all the time. But it’s not all about the operators – 5G is for everyone, and it’s an opportunity for everyone. And in particular we’d like to encourage new entrants,” he said.