Insights Ofcom announces new flexible approach to licensing and spectrum allocation for “restricted” radio services


Restricted services have small coverage areas and are often used to broadcast at events, or within a particular establishment. They include hospital radio, drive-in movie soundtracks and commentary for outdoor events, such as air shows. They also include radio services for religious observances such as Ramadan.

Restricted services mainly broadcast in the AM and FM broadcasting bands, but there have not always been sufficient frequencies available to meet demand, e.g., for hospital radio services wanting to broadcast on FM. There has also been more demand for frequencies from those wanting to provide drive-in events, which have increased in popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic.

To better meet demand, Ofcom is introducing a new method of spectrum planning that enables it to identify small gaps in spectrum use between existing broadcast radio services in the FM band. These gaps are called “limited coverage spectrum”. Because of the limited coverage that can be achieved using this spectrum, it is not suitable for national, local and community radio broadcasts, but is particularly suited for restricted service broadcasts.

Ofcom says that more efficient use of limited coverage spectrum increases the overall spectrum resource available for restricted radio services. This should provide opportunities for more of these types of services to be licensed in future.

Ofcom is also simplifying its licensing approach for restricted services and making the application process more straightforward. Ofcom will now begin to implement these changes. It will:

  • allocate suitable “limited coverage spectrum” where available to low-power restricted services;
  • move existing low-power restricted service licensees to a limited coverage frequency, where one is available, on renewal of their licences; following consultation responses, Ofcom will give 12 months’ advance notice to enable licensees to mitigate for costs associated with moving frequencies;
  • invite the Secretary of State to consider making an order under the Broadcasting Act 1990 to provide an exception for Audio distribution system restricted services and some similar emerging services from the requirement to hold a Broadcasting Act licence; and
  • simplify the fees regime for restricted services by adopting a modified version of its consultation proposals, resulting in a lower fee increase than originally proposed for restricted services operating at up to and including 2W.

To read Ofcom’s Statement in full, click here.