The UK's new strategic vision for spectrum policy

Accompanying the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) has published a new Spectrum Statement, setting out its strategic vision and principles for spectrum policy in the UK.

Maximising the usage of spectrum across the public and private sector is seen by DSIT as critical to delivering the UK's mission to position the UK at the forefront of global scientific and technological advancement, supporting research, innovation and growth across the economy while protecting critical services like defence and climate science.

The Statement sets out a range of principles and actions to support DSIT’s commitment that across government, there is the right policy framework in place to maximise the overall value of spectrum use to the UK, while supporting wider policy objectives. The Statement focuses on innovation in the use and management of spectrum to create greater opportunities for growth and societal benefits, recognising spectrum as a strategic public asset.

Managing spectrum use

DSIT determines that spectrum management should promote innovation and investment alongside consumer-focused outcomes, and will action this by working with Ofcom to ensure partners in government sponsored innovation programmes have a clear understanding of spectrum options early in the development process, including opportunities to maximise the value generated through Ofcom’s spectrum sandboxes.

Maximising the value of spectrum

DSIT explains how the value of spectrum has grown substantially in recent years, though it is a hard metric to determine absolutely. Plus, quantifying the indirect or social value of spectrum across sectors is difficult. That said, research by Frontier Economics and LS Telcom on Gross Value Added (GVA) terms of spectrum-using sectors shows £8.7 billion contribution of the mobile telecoms industry to the economy, fixed telecoms (£11.7 billion), broadcast (£2.5 billion), and more. It’s important to note that some areas – like Defence – the value is immeasurable in terms of UK society, national security, and non-economic benefits. Thus trade-offs required in spectrum policy decisions are more complex than simply increasing overall economic value.

A spectrum vision for the coming period

This is a progressive vision. DSIT will adopt the following approach whereby “through a renewed focus on advancements in the use of spectrum we can create greater opportunities for growth and societal benefits through increased access to spectrum, stimulating innovation and investment to maximise the value derived from the various applications that depend on this critical national asset”. Noting the potential for spectrum to be reused, DSIT notes the opportunities in more use of local and shared spectrum, automated and dynamic access to spectrum, refarming spectrum to accommodate higher value services, and use of more agile and interference-resilient technologies.

Principles for spectrum policy

DSIT outlines its overarching principles for spectrum policy:

  • Spectrum is a strategic asset and an important enabler for a range of government policy objectives.
  • Spectrum management should promote innovation and investment alongside consumer-focused outcomes.
  • Spectrum management should ensure efficient and optimum use and be linked to actual usage with users empowered to make decisions where appropriate.
  • Spectrum management should itself take best advantage of innovation as well as supporting innovation in the services which use spectrum.

The importance of spectrum to wider policy priorities

As set out in the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy and following the publication of the UK SPF’s Analysys Mason review of market mechanisms, DSIT explains that it has asked Ofcom to review and set out for ministers a clear and forward looking rationale for its approach to setting mobile spectrum fees before the end of 2023. The Statement also explains how DSIT sees the automation of licensing in Shared Access Licence (SAL) bands as a priority, a commitment to the introduction of Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA), and supporting Ofcom’s work to review the spectrum sharing framework to ensure that the technical conditions are optimal to maximise the utility of the spectrum. The Statement includes plans for spectrum and Net Zero, space sector ambitions, and effective governance arrangements.

Public sector spectrum use

Finally, DSIT announces that it will publish an end of Programme report for the Public Sector Spectrum Release Programme in 2023, and working with relevant government Departments and Ofcom, it will develop a next phase framework for spectrum used by the public sector, which will be demand-led and ensure regular reviews of how government utilises spectrum as well as how Departments engage with Ofcom, encompassing the following three principles:

  1. ensuring continued availability of necessary spectrum for existing, evolving and new public sector use cases, particularly those that deliver improved and innovative services or support new defence capabilities
  2. prioritising spectrum efficiency in public sector uses while recognising their specific requirements and constraints
  3. Continued focus on identifying and making available spectrum no longer needed by the public sector for commercial or emerging public sector use cases.

If you are interested in finding out more about the UK Spectrum Policy Forum, get in touch with the team below. 

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Jaynesh Patel

Jaynesh Patel

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK