The impact of Brexit on UK use of harmonised spectrum

Logo_brexit_new_size2Later this week, voters across the United Kingdom will decide whether they wish to remain a member of the European Union. For better or worse, the result could have a major impact on many areas of UK governance that have been bound by EU legislation.

I was recently approached by Dugie Standeford of Policy Tracker to provide my opinion on what the impact of leaving the EU could be on the UK’s use of harmonised spectrum (once any negotiation period had passed and withdrawal had been agreed).

It is this: whilst the UK may be able to take a different approach to spectrum decisions to the rest of the EU, I can’t think of any where it would want to do so.

Taking the example of Decision 2007/98/EC, which harmonises the use of spectrum in the 2GHz bands for mobile satellite services that have yet to emerge, there are already plans in motion in the UK for operators to implement such services.

But more importantly, satellite services by their very nature must be regulated at an international level, therefore I doubt the UK would change direction even when it is not formally bound by the EU Decisions.

Going it alone in our allocation and use of spectrum would also ultimately lead to equipment becoming more expensive to implement, raise the risk of cross-border interference, and reduce the long-term certainty around allocations. At most we’ll see some minor relaxation of certain restrictions on the use of spectrum, or in implementation timelines.

Finally, the UK will likely remain a member of — and play an active role in — CEPT. This is the body that is responsible for much of the detailed spectrum harmonisation efforts we see in European countries, but it is not restricted to EU countries alone. As such, the UK’s involvement in these discussions will not disappear — and there’s no reason to think the government or regulators would change that.

Therefore, whilst it remains one of the most important political choices the country has been presented with in a long time, the outcome of this week’s referendum is unlikely to significantly impact the UKs of harmonised spectrum.

The full article is available to read here.

EU roaming charges are being abolished — and the consequences for network providers are worrying

Percentage of population in rural environments in selected countries (data from Geohive)

Fig. 1 Percentage of population in rural environments in selected countries (data from Geohive)

Earlier this month, the European Commission announced that roaming charges and poor mobile internet connections for EU customers are set to become a thing of the past.

From 2017, consumers will be able to travel within the EU and pay the same price as they get at home for voice, texts and data. That means no more nasty shocks when the phone bill comes in after travelling abroad.

While the change is great news for consumers, it does pose a number of challenges for network providers.

Can a uniform law be effective in such a varied marketplace?
The EU may be a common marketplace for goods and services, but we know from our modeling work at Real Wireless that the cost for providing network services in different EU countries varies greatly from one country to the next.

Indeed the cost varies even within countries themselves because of differences in population density, availability of real estate for base stations, availability of backhaul services, and many other factors.

One measure value that a regulator may ascribe to a quantity of spectrum is calculated by comparing the value of this section of spectrum, against the costs incurred by rolling out the additional infrastructure required to support the services that use it.

Operators will either pay spectrum fees set by regulators or bid for spectrum. But in either case, they would not rationally pay more for spectrum than the value of the potential profitability of the business the spectrum would support.

Typically it costs a lot more to support services in less populace areas. For example rural areas often cost more than cities. In cities, the infrastructure typically enjoys much higher levels of utilisation, which brings in more income from users. Conversely, some rural areas face high fixed costs to roll out infrastructure, but then see much lower levels of utilisation as a result of the lower subscriber density in the area.

Figure 1 demonstrates just how variable population distributions are within some major European countries.

Most governments find it desirable that a large percentage of their population can access mobile communications services — and they often provide economic benefits to encourage rollout to the more remote, ‘last to be served’ population areas. Government regulators will also typically stipulate conditions for rollout, encouraging more people to be served. Both the fees and rollout conditions are set on a national basis, which has an impact on the cost of providing the minimum infrastructure required.

This new EU legislation will seek to establish a common price to be paid for service irrespective of where that service is being consumed. We therefore have the potential for highly asymmetric costs and services that could cause market distortion.

After all, there’s nothing to prevent users taking SIMs from a country where services can be provided at low cost and using them in a country with a high rollout cost (whether the result of topography, nationally imposed rollout conditions, or low population density). Excess demand for these SIMs would tend to push costs higher than otherwise expected.

The issues this new legislation presents are not only compounded by the asymmetrical nature of spectrum — particularly in terms of supply, availability and regulation — but also by the inability of network operators to differentiate their pricing whilst roaming, despite the reality being that each will still face different costs for terminating calls. The market will ultimately end up distorted as a result of separating the cost of goods from the cost of provision.

Who is going to take responsibility for service quality?
Cost aside, the question remains of who is going to be responsible for ensuring that quality of service remains consistently high across the entire continent. Unless the EU makes responsibility clear through law, Europe is faced with a messy blurring of responsibilities between the EU and its nation states.

The next two years before the changes become reality will prove to be vital in terms of planning and clarifying how the new market will work. Mobile operators will need to approach the European Commission directly to ensure the law provides clarity on these issues, in order to ensure that they are in a position to manage the responsibilities they will face come 2017.

How Real Wireless is shaping the future of wireless connectivity with 5G

Whilst 4G might only just have started to be appreciated by personal and business users, the wireless industry is already awash with discussions about 5G. Whilst Boris Johnson’s prediction that London will have 5G by 2020 is ambitious, it’s a solid bet to say it will start to be rolled out – in some form – in the early part of the 2020s, with a few non-standard networks trialling it before this (at the Tokyo Olympics, for example).

But at the same time, the reality is that the 5G technology isn’t actually defined yet. To make matters more complicated, there’s little appetite for rolling out an expensive new generation of cellular technology that only offers the “usual” higher speeds and bigger capacity benefits we have come to expect.

Instead, 5G is aiming to be the first wireless generation that is designed to explicitly cater to the needs of specific vertical industries. These could be anything from the emergency services, to broadcasting, smart highways, and utility networks.

As a result, the industry is fully aware that the end technology will need to be hugely flexible, capable of providing wide range connectivity to wireless sensors in remote locations, through to the short delay communications required to meet the needs of M2M. There are also niche use cases, such as in hyperdense venues like stadiums, where it needs be capable of handling tens of gigabits per second of data.

This in turn requires new, more flexible network architectures at all levels. The core network needs to be able to route traffic quickly and efficiently, adapting to suit the current application and available transport networks. The radio network needs to be flexible enough to suit the various needs of immensely different applications, some of which could be decades of battery life, gigabits of speeds, and milliseconds of latency…

…fingers crossed it’s not having to provide all of those at the same time!

To meet this need, and to ensure that 5G becomes a timely reality, Real Wireless is playing a key role in the research it first requires via initiatives, which include:

1. The EC socio-economic analysis – Catering to all these needs could prove immensely expensive, it’s therefore particularly important we closely examine the business case of the new business models it could enable – and the associated social and economic benefits these in turn could provide.

In May, the European Commission launched a 12-month study into the socioeconomic benefits of 5G. The study will help provide a better understanding of the potential impact that 5G will have in a variety of industries including health and travel.

After working with the European Commission on several other projects, Real Wireless was selected, along with three other key independent project stakeholders, to perform the analysis for this assessment.

The study will include a series of stakeholder hearings starting on 22nd September and a workshop on 19th October.

2. 5G Architecture research – The technological elements of 5G are – and will continue to be – the subject of intensive international research over the next few years. Real Wireless is contributing to this research, some of which is being funded by the EU – to the tune of €700million, no less – including as part of its 5GPP programme.

A great example of our involvement in this work is our recently announced 5G NORMA project. In this piece of work, we are working to identify the optimum architectures for 5G – you can find more details on this here.

3. Membership of research centres – The 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey is the UK’s only research centre dedicated to the next generation of mobile communications.

Real Wireless is now a pioneering SME member of the centre and will advise it on regulatory, technical and business challenges — driving the delivery of a mobile communications network capable of meeting the tomorrow’s needs.

We have also been contributing to the work of the world-renowned CONNECT research centre at Trinity College Dublin.

With the upward trend in mobile device adoption levels, 5G will become the crucial network underpinning almost every application, so the work we do now is crucial to ensure the infrastructure is ready when the world needs it.

It’s therefore important to us that we continue to play a key role in the development of the technology – both from an economic and technological standpoint.

Our work is also not without direct benefits for Real Wireless customers. Our insight in to the development process allows us to provide truly informed advice to both wireless industry players who wish to establish a position towards 5G, and to our wireless user customers who want to be sure that they are best placed to make the most of 5G’s potential to address their particular needs – at a time which is right for them.