Spectrum struggle as Ireland needs 200pc more wireless broadband

21 Jun 2016

ComReg has admitted it did not foresee how smartphones and smart devices would gobble up available spectrum

Ireland is facing a spectrum shortage because of the impact of smartphones and smart devices, and telecoms watchdog ComReg has warned the country will require a 200pc increase in wireless broadband delivery by 2019.

In its Radio Spectrum Management Strategy 2016-2018, ComReg Commissioner Gerry Fahy said that when the last strategy was published in 2011 the true impact of the smartphone could not have been foreseen.

And while licences were awarded for 4G networks in 2012, as well as the refarming of the 800MHz band from broadcasting to mobile broadband use, the mobile beast will still need to be fed.

He said the upcoming release of the 3.6GHz band plus the planned release of further spectrum bands such as 700MHz, 1.4GHz, 2.3GHz and 2.6GHz could support demand until 2019.

Societal frustration

However, Fahy said the Irish public is already frustrated about signal quality.

“ComReg recognises that the increased lifestyle dependence on the smartphone appears to have led to a broadly based public view of reducing mobile voice coverage and a growing societal frustration with the experience of services delivered by wireless means,” Fahy said.

“ComReg will work to gain a detailed understanding of the drivers of this issue and identify potential solutions, some of which ComReg may be in a position to promote or facilitate.

“ComReg will also support the commitment in the Programme for Government to provide solutions to the broadband/phone coverage deficit.”

According to 2014 data, the use of radio spectrum is estimated to contribute €4.7bn to Ireland’s GDP – around 2.5pc – and supports 29,000 jobs.

As well as refarming spectrum to take advantage of TV “white spaces” to help distribute broadband in rural and urban areas, ComReg said a number of measures could help alleviate the anticipated wireless spectrum struggles.

These include informing consumers about how antenna performance on mobile devices can affect the broadband experience.

Mobile operators will need more timely access to additional sites that could be used as macro sites for wide area coverage.

It said suggested broadband connections being used for voice calls as well as data and the use of mobile repeaters indoors to boost reception.

ComReg said it is also looking at how spectrum can be used for smart meters as well as various other business, aeronautical, maritime and scientific uses of Ireland’s spectrum resource.

While Ireland has an abundance of spectrum due to it not being a military power, its small population and it being an island rather than a landlocked European country, spectrum is still a finite resource.

With 5G around the corner and internet of things networks like Sigfox already up and running, planning ahead is essential.

Rainbow spectrum image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years