Précis - Ofcom has published a consultation proposing that a number of changes be made to the existing licence exemption arrangements for Short Range Devices in the 10.675 to 10.699 GHz band and for Mobile Satellite System user terminals in a range of frequencies.

What?  Ofcom regularly reviews the exemption regulations to enable new devices, which are typically low power with a low risk of causing interference, to be made available on a licence exempt basis or to amend current exemptions to take into account changes in technology.  The proposals put forward in its consultation on "Licence Exemption of Wireless Telegraphy Devices" dated 26 July 2012 set out a number of changes to existing arrangements for licence exemptions.  The first is to set a date for closing the current licence exempt 10.675 to 10.699 GHz frequency band following which no new Short Range Devices ("SRDs") will be able to be deployed on a licence exempt basis.  Although equipment in use prior to the closure date will still continue to be licence exempt until it needs to be replaced.  Secondly, to extend the licence exemption for Mobile Satellite System ("MSS") user terminals to include the 1518 -1559 MHz, 1626.5 to 1660.5 MHz and 1670 to 1975 MHz frequency bands.

So What?  Under S. 8(1) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, it is an offence to establish or use a wireless telegraphy station or to install or use wireless telegraphy apparatus except in accordance with a licence from Ofcom.  However, Ofcom may by regulation exempt from these requirements the establishment, installation or use of wireless telegraphy stations or apparatus.  Most of the radio devices that we use in everyday life, such as mobile phones, hearing aids and alarms have been exempted from such requirements; if this were not the case then these devices would require the individuals using them to hold a licence from Ofcom.

Closing the 10.675 to 10.699 GHz band

Since 1979 the 10.675 to 10.699 GHz frequency band has been recognised internationally by the ITU Radio Regulations ("ITU RR") as a quiet band intended for Earth Exploration Satellite Services for the monitoring of atmospheric, land and oceanic conditions.  However, preceding the ITU RR decision the UK had already established two classes of licence exemptions for SRD in these bands, namely for radio determination (home intruder alarms and automation systems) and short range indoor data links (an old technology largely superseded by WiFi).  Once a device is made licence exempt and is in widespread use it is very difficult to reverse the decision and it is therefore quite rare for Ofcom to remove a service allocation; to date it has only happened 3 times in 15 years.  The effect of Ofcom's proposed approach is to require new devices brought into use after a certain date to have a licence for their use, effectively preventing them from being used/made available to the general public and requiring a different frequency to be used for such equipment.  Ofcom has suggested that the 10.5GHz band may provide an appropriate alternative frequency band for such applications.  Existing equipment already deployed will continue to be licence exempt, although when it is replaced it would need to be replaced with equipment not using the closed frequencies.  Based on this approach Ofcom is consulting on the amount of notice that should be given to equipment manufactures prior to the licence exemption being removed to change their products.  Ofcom's current thinking is that an 18 month notice period should provide equipment manufacturers with sufficient notice to enable them to make the necessary changes to any products operating in the 10.675 to 10.699 GHz frequency band.

Licence exemption for Mobile Satellite System user terminals

MSS allows users to transfer data and voice information between satellite communications networks and portable user terminal devices such as phones and computers.  In 2012 CEPT (the "European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations") adopted an ECC Decision aimed at harmonising the circulation and use of terrestrial and satellite mobile terminals operating under the control of terrestrial and satellite networks.  Whilst ECC Decisions are not mandatory and do not cover national decisions on the authorisation of user terminals, this consultation aims to support the harmonisation of satellite usage.  MSS terminals are currently licence exempt in the 1626.5 to 1660.5 MHz (transmitting) and 1525 to 1559MHz (receiving) frequency bands in the UK.  Ofcom is therefore proposing that the licence exemption be extended to MSS terminals operating in the 1518 to 1525 MHz and 1670 to 1675 MHz frequency bands.  To take advantage of the exemption the MSS user terminal equipment will need to operate in the above frequency bands, operate, at or below, specified power density levels and comply with the requirements of ETSI standards EN 301 444 and EN 301 681 (which were cited in the EU Official Journal on 11 April 2012).  To bring into effect the above changes Ofcom is proposing to amend interface requirement IR 2016.  An amended copy of which is included at Annex 6 of the consultation.

Consultation Period

Ofcom has requested that any comments on the proposals outline above be submitted to it by 20 September 2012.