5 Other spectrum users |
Public sector spectrum
92. The public sector is a major holder of spectrum.
Almost 50 per cent of all spectrum below 15 GHz is currently held
by the public sector and primarily used for the defence, aeronautical
and maritime sectors and emergency services. The composition
of public-sector spectrum is shown in the table below:
|% of public sector
|Maritime ||2 %
93. In March 2011, DCMS issued a consultation
called Enabling UK growth - releasing public spectrum.
In the consultation document DCMS acknowledged that increasing
demand from commercial users meant that there was a strong case
for releasing some of the public sector spectrum holdings. It
Given that spectrum bands are already heavily used,
and that spectrum does not respect international borders, there
are a number of issues that need to be addressed when deciding
which bands to release, how and when.
[...]Many public sector bands are already shared
among a number of public and private sector users which adds to
the complexity in freeing them for other uses.
The international nature of spectrum both provides
benefits and raises issues. Much of the value from spectrum use
can be increased if a band is allocated for the same purpose internationally.
For example increased equipment volumes reduce costs and equipment
can be used abroad. However issues can arise if the international
agreements that bind the way that spectrum can be used need to
change, as securing changes can take many years.
The MoD has already identified two bands from which
it expects to release spectrum and DCMS has identified more bands
which it is investigating as potential releases.
94. Witnesses said that there was "a good
case for releasing some of the under-utilised spectrum" held
by the MoD and other public bodies.
Stephen Hearnden, Director of Telecommunications and Technology
at Intellect UK, the trade association for the UK technology industry,
said that the biggest benefit in releasing the public-sector spectrum
was that it could be internationally harmonised allowing users
to "roam" across international boundaries, and therefore
had more value to other spectrum users. He did, however, express
some concerns about how the proposed release of public spectrum
would be managed. He said that Ofcom was "quite a long way
divorced" from the process of public sector spectrum release,
even though it has a lot of experience in that field, whereas
the Government does not.
95. Another issue that was brought to our attention
regarding public sector spectrum use, was that public sector bodies,
such as the emergency services, are not in a position to bid for
spectrum and compete with private sector organisations in the
marketplace. Stephen Hearnden told us:
the emergency services are in need of additional
spectrum for the future growth of the emergency services, the
blue light network. They are not in an easy position to bid for
spectrum on a pure auction basis. Similarly, other public sector
needs are not adequately covered because under economic value
they have to pay the full market rate and there needs, I think,
to be a recognition. 
96. Simon Towler of DCMS told us that the Department
was aware of this issue, and that it formed part of the focus
of the communications review.
97. We welcome DCMS's consultation
on the release of public sector spectrum. We urge DCMS to work
closely with Ofcom and with the relevant international bodies
to ensure that the spectrum that is released is internationally
98. We are concerned that, because
the emergency services are not in a position to bid for spectrum
at auction, they could be overlooked in spectrum policy. It is
vital that Ofcom and DCMS take into full account the spectrum
needs of the emergency services in their spectrum policies.
Programme-Making and Special
Events and interference
99. The 800 MHz spectrum that is due to be auctioned
has previously been primarily used for Digital Terrestrial Television
(DTT) and the Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) sector.
PMSE spectrum use includes radio-microphones, wireless cameras
and wireless communication headsets. These are used in concerts,
theatre, television production, outside broadcasts and sporting
events. PMSE use of spectrum has grown considerably in the last
20 years due to live shows and events becoming bigger and more
technologically sophisticated. PMSE is the main sector using interleaved
spectrum which comprises the "white spaces", or "spare
channels". The term white space (or interleaved) spectrum
describes a range of frequencies that are not in use by the licensee
all of the time at all locations. A white space device can make
use of those frequencies provided that interference is not caused
to the licensed users of the spectrum. White space devices include
items such as car key fobs, baby monitors and Wi-Fi adaptors for
100. Ofcom states that the 800 MHz band will
be cleared of PMSE services by the end of 2012, and of DTT (as
part of the digital switchover) in 2013-14.
PMSE users are therefore being moved from their current spectrum
band, known as channel 69, to an alternative band, channel 38.
LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES
101. The London 2012 Olympic
Games (the Games) are perhaps the largest special event ever to
take place in the UK. The Games will place a heavy demand on spectrum
which will be used for many devices including wireless communications,
cameras and broadcast equipment. We understand that Ofcom has,
effectively, borrowed some public sector spectrum in order to
ensure that the Games organisers have access to enough spectrum
that is free from interference. Ofcom's ability to procure public
sector spectrum is vital for the success of the London 2012 Olympic
Games, and might also provide a model of spectrum lending that
could be used for other special events. We recommend that DCMS
and Ofcom look into whether this could be done for other special
102. The British Entertainment Industry Radio
Group (BEIRG) wrote in its submission that, following the allocation
of the 800 MHz spectrum to mobile operators at the auction, the
users of neighbouring spectrum may be affected:
BEIRG believes any future users of the 800 MHz spectrum
must be prevented from interfering with existing licensed users
in the adjacent bands. Ofcom must make every effort to ensure
that new use of the 800 MHz band is as clean as possible, as soon
as possible. Given the disruption already faced by the PMSE sector,
any further disruption would be unacceptable and unsustainable.
Similarly, DTT broadcasters sent us a joint submission
arguing that, after the 800 MHz auction, 4G services will be rolled
out which is "likely to create significant interference for
103. The Musicians' Union, in its written submission,
told us that if the move from channel 69 to 38 was looked at in
isolation from the wider context, "it would be reasonable
to conclude that channel 38 is an adequate replacement".
However, it goes on to state that, in the context of digital switchover,
it is "impossible to determine whether PMSE spectrum allocation
is demonstrably interference-free and sufficient in terms of quality,
bandwidth and continuity".
104. In June 2011, Ofcom launched a consultation
entitled Co-existence of new services in the 800 MHz band with
digital terrestrial television, which closed in August 2011.
The consultation contains a number of proposals which Ofcom has
designed to try and mitigate interference after digital switchover
and the roll-out of 4G mobile services. Ofcom has also committed
to publishing the results of further research into potential interference
in the autumn of 2011.
105. Ed Richards told us that concerns about
interference on DTT were the reason why Ofcom was putting its
proposals to consultation. He said:
We think that a significant number of households
could be affected possibly as high as 750,000but
the vast bulk of those should be able to have the issue addressed
through a simple filter. Once one has taken account of the effects
and the benefits of that filter, we think the number is very much
lowermore like 0.1%and for those households we may
have to look at specific measures.
106. The Ofcom consultation and technical research
demonstrates that, as Stephen Hearnden of Intellect UK put it,
Ofcom was "on top of" the issue of cross-spectrum interference,
and that the industry "is working with the regulator to try
and resolve it".
He also said that "the methods that have been suggested and
adopted by Ofcom for moving them from channel 69, as we call it,
down to channel 38 I think has been a fair and reasonable compromise".
107. There is evidence that the proliferation
of unlicensed white space devices using WiFi and Bluetooth technologies
pose a potential threat of interference for PMSE users. BEIRG
wrote in its submission:
The PMSE sector is extremely concerned that there
are moves to introduce these [white space] devices into the spectrum
currently used by licensed PMSE users, before any "real life"
testing has taken place and before Ofcom is in a position to guarantee
that existing licensed users will not be negatively affected.
White space devices are an unproven technology. If
they are permitted into the UK market in line with current proposals
they will, in all likelihood, cause interference to licensed PMSE
applications and consequently undermine the UK's ability to produce
quality content because they will render radio microphones, in-ear
monitor systems and talkback effectively unusable. This will devastate
the live music, theatre and film and TV production industries,
108. We put these concerns to Ed Vaizey, who
told us about the measures the Government was taking on this issue,
including a compensation regime and a trial in Cambridge looking
at white space devices and interference. He told us that he "would
like to think that we reflect on their concerns and we act on
Ed Vaizey went on to say that the issue of white space device
interference is not specific to channel 38, and that in that respect
"channel 38 would be no different from channel 69".
109. We welcome the Government's
compensation regime for the relocation of PMSE spectrum use from
channel 69 to channel 38, and the trial in Cambridge looking at
interference by white space devices. However, these measures do
not address the real problem of new spectrum users in the 800
MHz band causing disruptive interference to the PMSE sector. We
recommend that Ofcom includes in the new 800 MHz licence conditions
a provision that any significant interference to adjacent users
be considered grounds for that licence to be revoked.
Satellite spectrum use
110. Inmarsat provides satellite services for
military and Government, as well as maritime users and disaster
relief missions and, in its written submission, stressed that
the alternative uses for spectrum, ie. other than by the MNOs,
should not be overlooked when it comes to the spectrum auction:
The focus of this inquiry on mobile broadband should
not obscure that many other services rely on spectrum in the same
portion of the radio frequency spectrum that mobile terrestrial
operators seek. Among the recommendations of the UK Space Innovation
and Growth strategy (IGS) [...] is that the Government should
take full account of the wider value of Space-enabled services
when engaged in activities relating to radio frequency spectrum
allocation. The spectrum most in demand below 3 GHz has been a
prime focus for mobile terrestrial operators, but it also is used
by many other users and regulated safety services. A sophisticated
approach to "co-habitation" amongst the different services
is required to maximise welfare for all users.
Rupert Pearce of Inmarsat explained to us that satellites
were very expensive and sophisticated objects, weighing six tonnes
and requiring a $120 million rocket to launch them into space.
He went on to say that, once in orbit, "you can't send a
man up with a screwdriver" to recalibrate a satellite, and
that therefore any changes to international spectrum allocations
or policy must take account of this.
111. We asked both Inmarsat and Intellect UK
whether they were satisfied that European spectrum regulators
were sufficiently taking into account the needs of niche services
such as satellites, and both said that no, they were not.
Stephen Hearnden said that Ofcom seemed "to be reducing their
commitment to the European programmes [...] It is a source of
concern that certain bands seem to be ceded to the broadband community
and there are activities like, for example, [satellite] services
[...] that could suffer as a result of some of the changes in
legislation that come out of the EU".
This is a point that Chris McLaughlin, Vice President of External
Affairs at Inmarsat, took further when giving evidence to us:
Ofcom had "always seen themselves as the guardians of the
consumer in the UK and nowhere else. They have struggled, shall
we say, to think about how they could also be the guardians of
leading British industry that operates with spectrum".
Rupert Pearce went on to say that:
We do feel that Ofcom is split between wanting to
be the regulators' regulator, proselytising new ways of regulating
outside the UK to its comrades there, as against wrapping itself
in the Union Jack and supporting British business out there in
the rest of the world. Domestically, we feel uncomfortable with
the economics-driven approach to spectrum policy, which I think
if that is the only approach and it is not leavened by public
policy objectives as well and recognising there are other businesses
that can't compete for spectrum on the same basis as, say, a Vodafone
or an O2, then over time businesses like ours will struggle to
compete in the UK.
112. Ofcom's remit is set out in the 2003 Communications
Act which states that "Ofcom's principal duty when exercising
its functions is to further the interests of citizens in relation
to communications matters and to further the interests of consumers
in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition". 
We considered whether there was a case for widening Ofcom's remit
to take full account of the interests of British businesses. Ed
Vaizey said that he thought there was.
Ed Richards also said that "there is bound to be a case"
for widening Ofcom's remit, but said that Ofcom did not currently
ignore business interests, asserting that "it certainly is
not the case that we do not take account of business needs. Whether
our duties need to be adjusted to guide us to take more account
of business as a voice or of particular businesses, will ultimately
be a matter for Parliament".
113. Given the growth, and consumer
benefits, of mobile broadband provision, it is understandable
that this has been the focus of recent spectrum policy. However,
spectrum use by other sectors is also crucial to many industries
and services including the emergency services, maritime services,
and special events including the London 2012 Olympics. Some spectrum
users are not in a position to bid competitively for spectrum
and therefore it is even more important that their needs are not
114. We are sympathetic to the
concerns we have heard from the Programme-Making and Special Events
sector. However, we think that Ofcom and DCMS are taking their
concerns seriously and we welcome the trial in Cambridge that
is looking at white space devices.
115. Given that spectrum is
a finite resource, it is inevitable that some interference and
inconvenience may occur for users as certain sectors expand faster
than others. We are concerned about potential interference on
digital terrestrial television caused by 4G mobile services, but
we are satisfied that Ofcom is taking appropriate measures to
116. Spectrum is a valuable
resource that many industries depend on. Ofcom has a very difficult
role to play in balancing the interests of consumers, businesses
and the public purse. On the whole, we believe that Ofcom is striking
the right balance with regards to spectrum policy and management.
However, we recommend that the Government widens Ofcom's remit
to ensure that it will safeguard the interests of British business
abroad as well as the interests of consumers and citizens, a measure
that would not require legislation.
111 With: BIS, DCLG, MoD, Dept for Transport, Home
Office, Dept of Health and HM Treasury Back
Enabling UK growth:releasing public spectrum, DCMS et al Back
Ofcom Digital dividend: clearing the 800MHz band, June
Ev 85 Back
Ev 110 Back
Ev 54 Back
Ev 54 Back
Ofcom Co-existence of new services in the 800MHz band with
digital terrestrial television, June 2011 Back
Ev 84 Back
Ev 67 Back
Communications Act 2003, section 3(1) Back