Ofcom to make 700MHz band available for mobile broadband services

Move should happen by 2022 but will require digital terrestrial TV providers such as Freeview to be moved to another spectrum band, as will wireless microphone users in the programme making and special events sector

Ofcom to make 700MHz band available for mobile broadband services

Ofcom said this week (19 November 2014) that it will make the 700MHz spectrum band currently used by digital terrestrial TV (DTT) and the programme making and special events (PMSE) sector, available for mobile broadband services by 2022.

The decision allows mobile network operators to deliver mobile broadband using some of the frequencies currently used for DTT services, such as Freeview, and wireless microphones. Ofcom has pledged that its proposals will also secure the future of digital terrestrial TV.

As a result, consumers and businesses should get faster and cheaper mobile data services, while viewers can continue to enjoy the free-to-view TV services they value without another ‘switchover’, as was required in the shift from analogue to digital TV. Ofcom’s objective is to make this happen by the beginning of 2022, and possibly up to two years earlier.

Ofcom will also ensure that users of wireless microphones in the PMSE sector, such as theatres, sports venues and music events, continue to have access to the airwaves they need to deliver their important cultural benefits.

One of Ofcom’s core roles is to manage the limited supply of spectrum - the raw material necessary for all wireless communications - and balance the needs of different users. Demand for mobile data could be 45 times higher by 2030 than it is today. Mobile service providers will need access to more spectrum than they have now to support this growing consumer demand for internet on the move on smartphones and tablet devices.

Planning for the future
Ofcom said its decision marks a significant step in addressing the UK’s requirements for mobile data spectrum. The move will secure the UK’s position as a world leader for digital services, both mobile and TV.

The move follows last week’s announcement that Ofcom is to release Ministry of Defense spectrum at other frequencies that could also be used to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband services.

In October, potential bidders were invited to comment on proposals for Ofcom's auction of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, which is expected to take place in late 2015 or early 2016.

Digital terrestrial TV will continue to perform a vital role in providing viewers with low-cost, near-universal access to the public service TV channels. For the vast majority, the move will require only a simple retune of existing TV equipment. A very small minority of households (about 0.5%) might need to change their roof-top aerials - although this is unlikely to be necessary before 2019.

Ofcom has identified a number of frequency bands that wireless microphones could potentially use. Working closely with the PMSE community, Ofcom will confirm what spectrum will be available to them next year.

Ed Richards, the outgoing Ofcom chief executive, said: “This is a crucial next step in the development of the UK's communications infrastructure. This decision ensures that we are making the raw materials available with which investors and companies can build the services which will support the digital economy of the future.

“More spectrum will be available for mobile broadband where demand is especially high, but the UK will retain a competitive terrestrial television platform as well.”

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