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MOD spectrum under the spotlight

A lot more than defence of the realm

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The UK Ministry of Defence has published its first consultation on the huge quantity of radio spectrum it has unfettered access to, though it turns out the usage isn't as exclusive as it first appeared.

The Cave report: an analysis of how radio spectrum is used in the UK, identified 23 bands that are allocated to the MOD, and suggested that the military should pay market rates or hand over the spectrum for market trading. This first stage of a detailed audit focuses on four of those bands, including one that could be available for commercial usage by the middle of next year.

406.1 – 430MHz is a nice chunk of spectrum close to that used for analogue TV and with decent range and building penetration, and one that the MOD has identified as possibly being surplus to requirements. 3.4 – 3.6 GHz might also be up for early trading, though 3.1 – 3.4GHz has been declared off limits because of NATO commitments, while 2.7 – 3.1GHz might turn out to be too complicated to throw into the free market.

The MOD is allocated 35 per cent of the UK spectrum below 15GHz, for which they pay £50m a year. This might seem unreasonable until one notices that 99 per cent of that spectrum is shared with secondary users. The military has always been tolerant of other people using its frequencies, as long as they don't get out of hand, but a new owner will likely want to make greater use of the bandwidth and thus squeeze out those secondary users – many of which are government departments or research establishments.

Just identifying all those secondary users is a major undertaking, and getting agreement from all of them to change the arrangements could well be impossible - which is why 2.7 – 3.1GHz isn't going to be publicly traded any time soon.

For the other bands the MOD plans to ask UK regulator Ofcom for Recognised Spectrum Access (RSA) as their current allocation is just that – an allocation, without surrounding legal framework. An RSA would enable the MOD to sell off frequencies or sub-let them, as well as restricting how they are used – though the MOD reserves the right to ignore those restrictions in times of national emergency and so forth.

All this is only about spectrum usage in the UK. When it comes to "battle space" the MOD will continue to use what works and is compatible with our allies, though it is considering a central database of all their spectrum usage – in a format compatible with our NATO partners at least.

The consultation, which is open until 5 September, also lays out the timetable for audits of the remaining spectrum used by the MOD, as well as identifying some of the secondary users who are most likely to suffer from greater commercialisation of spectrum. ®

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