Every few years, we see mobile operators engaged in discussions around the frequency spectrum. Do you sometimes wonder, what they are talking about and more importantly, why they are talking about it? Regulatory authorities such as Ofcom in the UK, are also involved in these discussions. If you follow UK technology news, you may recall 2013 when Ofcom were doing an auction for the 4G mobile spectrum which key players in the UK including EE, Vodafone, Telefónica UK, Hutchison 3G and Niche Spectrum Ventures ended up winning. That win allowed these players to be able to roll out 4G LTE services in the UK.
What is the frequency spectrum?
The frequency spectrum is one of the most precious resources of any mobile network operator (MNO). It is the only way for the operators to roll out mobile services in any location. The frequency spectrum defines the frequency bands allocated to each mobile operator in a country which they use to provide mobile services to their customers. These frequency bands are licensed and require mobile operators to get the license from a regulating body. In the UK, this regulatory body is called Ofcom. The licensing is not only limited to mobile communications but applies to all telecom services including TV, radio and other such services. The frequency spectrum is the lifeblood of a mobile network. The provision of mobile services in high-quality requires the frequencies to be allocated and controlled properly. Improper use of the frequency channels can lead to severe degradation of services due to interference. For mobile operators, the frequency spectrum needs to be planned well and used efficiently in order to ensure good Quality of Service (QoS) for their customers.
Who owns the spectrum?
The frequency spectrum in any country is owned and managed by the government. The regulators within specific countries are responsible for issuing licenses to the communication service providers such as mobile operators to be able to use the frequency bands within their allocated frequency spectrum. Mobile operators can then use the frequency bands for the transmission and reception of their mobile services. Mobile operators use sub-frequency bands (channels) within their allocated frequency band and assign these to their radio network resources. So basically, when your mobile phone communicates with your nearest Base Station, it is using one of these frequency channels. However, it is worth mentioning here that not all frequency bands require a license e.g. Wi-Fi, walkie-talkies, and baby monitors typically use frequency bands which are license-free.