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Frequency planning and licensing

Ofcom have responsibility for planning the allocation of frequencies in the UK for non-military purposes. This is achieved through a number of international and national mechanisms as explained below.

Frequency allocation

In the UK planning of frequency allocations can be split into 3 sections:

  • The Global level
  • The European level; and
  • The National level.

Global level

Planning of frequency allocations globally falls to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is a United Nation Organisation based in Geneva , Switzerland , which currently has 185 member countries. The ITU is split into 3 Regions:

  • Region 1 – Europe , Africa , the Middle East , Russia , Mongolia ;
  • Region 2 – The Americas , Greenland ;
  • Region 3 – Rest of Asia , Australasia , Pacific Rim

The UK is part of Region 1, (where the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) are tasked with planning radio spectrum at a European level).

The ITU is generally tasked with regulating the use of the radio spectrum and the ITU Member States decide what procedures to adopt. The ITU usually holds a World Radiocommunication Conference every 3 years where various ITU Radio Regulations are revised by its final Acts, that in turn regulate the use of the radio spectrum internationally. The Radio Regulations have “Treaty Status”. They also contain the international frequency allocation table. This forms the global framework for regional and national planning. Some spectrum services are harmonised at a global level i.e. satellite and fixed services.

European level

Planning of the radio spectrum is conducted at the European level through the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), which has 43 member countries. The CEPT structure dealing with spectrum planning is the European Communications Committee ( ECC ), which has 3 subordinate committees:

Working Group Frequency Management (WGFM)

Working Group Radio Administration (WGRA)

Working Group Spectrum Engineering (WGSE)

The ECC produces recommendations and decisions on spectrum usage. The Decisions, when implemented by member countries, form the basis for pan-European (not just EU) harmonisation of spectrum usage at the level of specific applications such as cellular, digital, audio broadcasts, radio local area networks etc. The ECC also works closely with the European Community in support of the role the Community now takes in implementing the new Communication Directives, in supporting free circulation of radio equipment and in promoting harmonisation.

There is a growing trend within Europe and globally to harmonise the use of radio whenever possible. This means agreeing frequencies to be used for similar applications in neighbouring counties, and that where appropriate European standards and specifications are set out for the approval of radio equipment. The European Commission’s Radio Spectrum Policy Group works closely with CEPT to co-ordinate a common European position. The EC Radio Spectrum Policy Group is also empowered to assist the commission in policy decisions to harmonise spectrum use. The UK is required to adopt any decisions taken.

National level

The Government oversees spectrum issues through a Cabinet Committee. The Military spectrum is managed solely by MOD. The Communications Act has placed responsibility for managing other spectrum to Ofcom, although the Secretary of State may from time to time make directions to Ofcom. Ofcom must therefore work closely with Government in planning spectrum use. But it remains independent in such matters as licensing. UK decisions on Frequency planning are set into the various tables and plans produced by Ofcom, which at the licensing level are published through the UK Plan for Frequency Authorisation.

Frequency assignment

Users of radio are assigned certain frequencies that they can use within the appropriate allocations so that the spectrum is used efficiently and without interference between users, e.g. PMR users are assigned certain channels in the land mobile service allocation.

Official authorisation for a user to use a certain frequency will come either through a licence or an exemption. The licence states certain service criteria that need to be complied with so that no undue interference occurs to other users.

Users that need to either modify, service/ repair equipment, do scientific research, train in radio theory and practice will need to apply for a WT Act Testing and Development licence, where a set channel will be provided under certain circumstances. Radio suppliers with PBR or Maritime Suppliers’ licences can service and repair PBR and marine equipment respectively without needing a Test and Development licence.

For further information on assignment in the different sectors, please refer to the individual Unit manual.

European Directives

European Union Directives 2002/21/EC and 2002/20/EC set a new common framework for the management and use of radio spectrum. These are part of a wider package of measures for electronic communications and are enacted into UK law through the Communications Act 2003. They came into effect in July 2003.

In summary the aim of these Directives in relation to spectrum is to encourage Member States to have a consistent approach to effective spectrum management, harmonising frequency use, minimising the need for licensing to conditions necessary for avoiding interference.

The WT Act 2006 extends to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. However, the EU Directives may not extend to those territories. Nonetheless, in order to ensure equality of treatment to all licensees, Ofcom has assumed that most WT Act licensing procedures will apply in these areas, except for a few measures where the islands have opted out (e.g. spectrum trading).

R& TTE Directive

Another EU Directive that has impacted on the radio spectrum is the R& TTE Directive that was implemented on 8 April 2000 .

The Directive provides the European Radio and the Telecommunications Terminal Equipment industry with a more deregulated environment. The involvement of Ofcom in conformity assessment is not necessary in most cases. The person(s) who places equipment onto the market will, in general, be regarded as taking full responsibility for its conformity to essential requirements, and for properly informing users of its intended use. Only in the case of radio equipment not operating on frequency bands that are harmonised is it mandatory to consult Ofcom.

Further details of the Directive and Procedures for notifying new equipment being placed on the market are indicated in Annex 2 below

Interface Requirements

The use of Radio in the UK is licensed (or licence exempt) under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. Licences are granted subject to certain terms and conditions, provisions and limitations, one of which may be to use only apparatus which meets specified requirements. That a product conforms to the R& TTE Directive and relevant “Interface Requirement” (IR) would signify that it should meet these requirements.

Often the end user of the equipment, the actual licensee, is in no position to know whether the equipment is operating within the limitations of the licence (for example whether it is giving out spurious emissions, which may affect other radio users). Compliance with the Directive, including IRs’, enables Ofcom and the end user to have reasonable confidence that the equipment can be licensed for use, and used without causing significant interference to other users.

A list of all Interface Requirements can be found on the website.

General Comment about this manual

This document is designed to give an overall picture of policy on licensing procedures. Due to the nature of the organisation it is not possible to encompass every Business Unit with one policy manual and be fully comprehensive of every process and policy. As such, this document should not be taken as giving exact policy for all areas of licensing undertaken.

Please contact the appropriate business unit directly if you have any queries or concerns.

Revisions to this document will be done periodically or when there is a substantive need to update the document.

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