UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom today (16 November 2012) published plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices, which will help meet consumers’ growing demand for data on the move.
Alongside the announcement, Ofcom has published new data on the UK’s communications infrastructure, which shows that 20 million Gigabytes of data is now being consumed in a year over the country’s mobile networks – more than twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes). That is the equivalent of downloading 5 billion music tracks.
By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today. To help meet this demand and avert a possible ‘capacity crunch’, more mobile spectrum is needed over the long term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient. Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available.
Freeing up 700MHz band for mobile
The plans aim to draw on the 700MHz frequency band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television, as part of future harmonised spectrum planning across Europe and the rest of the world. Releasing the new frequencies can be achieved without the need for another TV ‘switchover’. Only 0.1% of the population would have to change their rooftop TV aerials.
Ofcom said is important that different countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should in turn reduce prices for consumers.
The USA and other parts of the world already use the 700MHz band for mobile services. The aim now is to get Europe, the Middle East and Africa to follow suit.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: ‘Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G [800MHz and 2.6GHz]. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G.
‘Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally.’
Maintaining digital television
Ofcom’s plans also seek to ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial TV (DTT), which performs an important role in providing low-cost, near-universal access to the public service TV channels. This can be achieved by ensuring alternative frequencies are available for DTT when the next generation of mobile broadband is introduced towards the end of the decade.
The changes will require an international spectrum plan to be agreed, and work on this is unlikely to be complete before 2018. Over the coming years, Ofcom will plan and prepare to ensure the changes are in the best interests of UK citizens and consumers.
For the vast majority of viewers, moving DTT to different frequencies will require a simple retune of existing TV equipment. However, a small minority of consumers may need to change their roof top aerials – likely not before 2018. Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers.