Ofcom UK offers the higher 6 GHz band for shared access licenses

UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom today proposed to make the upper band of 6GHz radio spectrum (6425-7070MHz) available for shared access licensing for low-power indoor use. But this decision raises questions about the future use of this band to help improve 5G and WiFi performance, which has not yet been ruled out.

Just to recap. That of the regulator Shared Access Licenses are part of a larger framework to enable the shared use of spectrum. These licenses can, for example, be used to set up indoor or outdoor private 5G (mobile broadband) mobile networks, often working with existing owners of the primary bands (details here and here).

REMARK: Consultation will continue until 11 April 2022 and Ofcom intends to take a final decision later in 2022.

Currently, these licenses are available through four bands of spectrum that support mobile technology, including 1800 MHz (i.e. 1781.7-1785 MHz paired with 1876.7-1880 MHz) , 2.3 GHz (2390 to 2400 MHz), 3.8 to 4.2 GHz and 24.25 to 26.5 GHz (this band is only available for indoor low power licenses).

During this time, the 6GHz strip consists of both the Higher 6GHz (6425-7070MHz) Where Lower 6 GHz (5925-6425MHz) bands. Ofcom has already made the lower part of this band available for WiFi under the new WiFi 6E standard (here), but the upper part has remained the subject of some debate.. until now.

Ofcom Statement

We are proposing to add the upper 6 GHz band (6425-7070 MHz) to Ofcom’s Shared Access License Framework for low power indoor use.

• Licenses would cover the entire band for an area within 50m of a central point.

• Use would be limited to indoors only, with a maximum power limit of 250mW EIRP.

• Potential users could apply for multiple licenses to cover a larger interior area – these applications would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

• Each license would be subject to an annual fee of £320 and would be for an indefinite period, with

Ofcom reserves the right to revoke licenses for spectrum management purposes subject to a minimum of one month’s notice of revocation.

We believe these proposals would allow greater access to the 6 GHz band without impacting historical users or preventing future uses.

Ofcom believes these licenses could be particularly suitable for industrial, commercial and research uses (e.g. factory robots and sensors, augmented reality (AR), healthcare monitors, wireless medical equipment and network connections private, etc). But this raises a question mark over the potential for this band to be exploited by WiFi networks, as well as 5G mobile telephony in the future.

However, the use of the upper 6 GHz band for unlicensed consumer Wi-Fi, or for licensed 5G mobile networks, is beyond the scope of this consultation, as “technical compatibility work is still underway to determine if and how these technologies could share the band with each other or with other services.” Unfortunately, he “it may take some time before we can form an opinion on these uses“, said the regulator.

Nevertheless, Ofcom believes that license-exempt Wi-Fi and the licenses offered above are “capable of coexisting“, although if 5G ever ends up being authorized for the same band, that would be another matter. “If we were to eventually license mobile 5G, there’s a risk we’d have to revoke those licenses – but it’s likely to be some time before that materializes.“, added the regulator; not very comforting for anyone who might consider longer term use.

Evelyn C. Tobin