Ofcom outlined an ambition to make mmWave spectrum available to the UK’s mobile industry by 2024, as it launched a consultation on opening access to the 26GHz and 40GHz bands.

In a statement, the regulator pointed to the advantage of deploying 5G in the bands for faster speeds and greater capacity in crowded areas, citing transport hubs, busy streets and entertainment venues.

Ofcom noted it could also enable high-speed fixed wireless access services in hard to reach areas and be deployed in private networks for applications including factory automation and smart agriculture.

In the UK, the 26GHz band is already used for fixed point-to-point links; a satellite earth station; level crossing radars used by railway operators; ultra-wideband radar; a range of short-range devices; and for special events.

Ofcom added the UK Ministry of Defence also has access to the band but currently doesn’t have a use for it.

The consultation outlines an ambition to offer a range of very local and city-wide licences for the 26GHz band. In high density usage areas where fixed link licences are already active, Ofcom plans to issue a five year notice period to revoke them.

In low density areas, it aims to allow existing fixed link users to continue with current activities. Other users of the band, it added, are expected to co-exist with 5G and other mobile services.

Ofcom explained the 40GHz band had been allocated in 2008 with Hutchinson 3G UK, Mobile Broadband Network, and MLL 40GHz holding the licences. However, the trio are not allowed to deploy mobile services in the band and currently use it for fixed links.

The regulator’s consultation provides a number of options for the 40GHz band, from changing existing licences to clearing and reallocating it.

Alongside general views on allocation for mobile use, interested parties have also been invited to make comments on a potential auction format, competition considerations and licence lengths.

The consultation closes on 18 July 2022 with a provisional timescale of making spectrum available by 2024.