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Ofcom wants to see more unlicensed frequencies

Giving away spectrum?

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UK regulator Ofcom has published a statement suggesting two new blocks of unlicensed spectrum, 59-64 GHz and 102-105 GHz, be reserved for unlicensed use before anyone works out how to make money out of them.

The popularity of 2.4GHz, which is unlicensed and is used for a multitude of applications including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, has demonstrated that allowing free access to a frequency block (limiting only the transmission power) can generate significant value to society as a whole – something Ofcom admits is part of its remit.

Their research estimates that Wi-Fi hotspots will be worth £100bn to the UK economy over the next 20 years. While this is less than a quarter of the cellular industry over the same period Ofcom accepts there's good reason to have both models, licensed and unlicensed, to gain maximum value.

Ofcom proposes that the two new blocks be reserved for unlicensed use now, before anyone's really interested in using them, and that any reservation be perpetuated as long as possible to allow confident investment in the technologies needed to take advantage of it.

To that end they've selected 59-64 GHz and 102-105 GHz as being appropriate blocks for unlicensed use. The former is already reserved as unlicensed in Japan and the USA, and CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) is testing the latter for high capacity wireless and intelligent transport (in-car radar) systems.

Ofcom is still mulling over the possibility of linking particular frequencies to specific technologies, as well as possibly requiring users of some frequencies to register their usage, though the document argues against such restrictions. They are also thinking hard about what cap to put on the transmission power.

Right now there's not a lot going on at such high frequencies, and they're most likely to be useful for short-range high-bandwidth communications such as in-home networks and sending video around the place. But by pegging out the land now, Ofcom hopes to be able to keep it free in the future when companies might be taking more of an interest. ®

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