UK communications regulator Ofcom is today (21 November 2013) consulting on a blueprint for meeting the growing demands that will be placed on the UK’s wireless communications infrastructure over the next two decades.
A number of new spectrum bands have been identified as potential candidates for future mobile broadband use, which would bring benefits to consumers and businesses.
When combined with developments in mobile technology, such as 5G, and the introduction of more advanced mobile networks, Ofcom estimates that this new spectrum could boost mobile data capacity by more than 25 times between now and 2030.
The spectrum Ofcom has identified represents approximately seven times the amount of spectrum released as part of the 4G auction, which took place in early 2013.
Ofcom has identified up to 881MHz of additional downlink spectrum. This compares to approximately 135MHz of downlink spectrum (100MHz of paired spectrum plus 70% of the unpaired spectrum) made available as part of the 4G auction.
Demand for extra capacity is likely to be fuelled by an even greater dependence on mobile devices and applications, as well as significant growth in machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, a key enabler of the ‘Internet of Things’.
Connecting devices in this way has the potential to deliver significant benefits to society in areas such as transport, healthcare, energy and agriculture, Ofcom said. Globally, up to 50 billion devices are forecast to be connected to the internet by the end of the decade.
However, there is not an unlimited supply of spectrum available to meet this demand. Ofcom said it has to balance the interests of all spectrum users and ensure that this scarce national resource is used as efficiently as possible.
This involves ensuring that the needs of existing users, such as broadcasters and users of wireless cameras and microphones, are appropriately protected. For example, we are currently working with users of wireless cameras and microphones to improve our understanding of their spectrum needs, the impact of changes in spectrum availability and options for the future.
Bands already identified for potential mobile broadband use
Ofcom stated that it is already working to increase the amount of spectrum available for mobile data in a number of areas:
2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands: Ofcom is working closely with the Ministry of Defence to move this spectrum from the public sector into commercial use. This spectrum is suitable for mobile broadband and could be released through an auction in 2015-16. The public sector has access to just over half of the UK spectrum, and Ofcom is working with Government to identify ways of increasing opportunities for commercial access in the future.
700MHz band: While no decisions have yet been made, Ofcom is investigating the potential to rearrange the bands used for digital terrestrial TV. This could release more of this prime spectrum for mobile broadband use sometime after 2018, while ensuring that consumers would continue to have the opportunity to benefit from digital terrestrial TV.
White spaces: Over the next six months, around 20 organisations will be participating in an Ofcom pilot to road-test ‘white space’ technology. A variety of innovative applications will be tested – ranging from sensors that monitor the behaviour of cities, to dynamic information for road users and rural broadband in hard to reach places. These new services will utilise the gaps, or ‘white spaces’, that sit in the frequency band used to broadcast digital terrestrial TV.
Potential new spectrum bands
In addition to these immediate priorities, Ofcom has identified a number of spectrum bands that might be suitable for use for mobile data in the longer term. The following examples are illustrative of the type of bands that could be used in the future for mobile broadband. They are part of a wider list of bands that have been identified, all of which are being considered equally. Two such examples are:
2.7GHz band: The UK Government is currently assessing the possibility of reorganising the 2.7GHz radar band to potentially release up to 100MHz of spectrum for other uses, which could include mobile broadband.
3.6GHz band: Additional spectrum in the 3.6GHz band, which is currently used for satellites links, is another potential candidate. Mobile services should be able to share this band by co-ordinating with existing satellite users.
Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said: “The demands for mobile data will only increase as millions more wireless devices connect to the internet and each other. We’re looking at ways to use spectrum more efficiently and consider future releases of prime spectrum. By doing so, we can help to meet the significant demands placed on our wireless infrastructure and develop one of the world’s leading digital economies.”
The consultation can be found here.