UK communications regulator Ofcom has released its 2019/2020 Annual Plan, in which it outlines a range of planned works for the coming financial year including awarding new spectrum bands, improving the opportunities for spectrum sharing, and preparing for the launch of commercial 5G New Radio services.
In the document, Ofcom lays out nine key priorities: improving fixed-line broadband and mobile coverage across the UK, in particular improving coverage of rural regions; improving fairness for commercial communications customers; supporting UK TV and radio broadcasting; raising awareness of online harms; supporting consumers and the communications industry through the process of exiting the European Union; improving the security and stability of communications networks; increasing diversity and inclusion, both within Ofcom itself and the broader industry; sustaining the universal postal service; and a pledge to make better use of data and provide greater access to information.
A key part of the regulator’s promised innovation comes in a pledge to improve cellular network coverage, particularly in rural areas. “We will explore a range of policy options and technologies for improving mobile coverage,” the plan explains. “We will prepare to award spectrum bands (700 MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz) as they are cleared and released and will continue to develop proposals for new licence obligations that would require improvements in mobile coverage in rural areas. A statement will be published in Q3, with auction applications expected to begin in December 2019. We will also publish a statement in Q2 on potential spectrum-based solutions to improving coverage both indoors and in rural communities. We will also continue to look at how mobile coverage can be measured and reported more clearly to consumers.
“We will take action to extend spectrum sharing opportunities in bands which support mobile technology in order to enable spectrum-based solutions that could be employed to improve coverage both indoors and in rural communities,” the report continues. “We will continue to ensure that our regulatory approach encourages innovation in new 5G technologies. This will include understanding the implications of implementing network slicing under net neutrality regulations and the use of 5G technologies to provide fixed wireless services. We will also engage with consumers and businesses on the benefits of 5G services. We will work to understand the planning parameters required to deliver good 5G coverage for mobile, fixed wireless and the Internet of Things. This will be used to provide future coverage information on the availability of 5G services. We will continue to support industry testing and early deployments.”
The full 2019/2020 Annual Plan, along with historical plans going back to 2004 and the company’s annual reports through to 2003, can be found on the Ofcom website.