Ofcom has today begun to set out plans that will eventually enable the release of new airwaves (UHF radio spectrum), such as the controversial 700MHz and 600MHz band used by Digital TV services, which could be used by a future generation of 5G Mobile Broadband or WiFi style internet solutions. But it will be 2018 before anything happens.
According to Ofcom, the UK’s mobile networks consume 20 Million Gigabytes of data a
year month and that’s twice what it was in 2011 (9 Million Gigabytes). It’s further estimated that, by 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today and that would risk a possible “capacity crunch“. The average mobile customer used 245 MegaBytes of data in the month, twice as much as the year before.
Today’s UHF Strategy Statement is effectively a continuation of the consultation that they started in March 2012 (here), which considered how best to handle the valuable radio spectrum in Ultra High Frequency (UHF) bands IV and V.
As a result of that consultation Ofcom, alongside similar moves in Europe and the wider international community, has chosen to harmonise the release of additional low frequency spectrum for Mobile Broadband services. It has also pledged to do this without damaging Digital TV (DTV / DTTV) and microphone services that share the same spectrum. Ofcom said something similar about 4G but today we know that LTE does interfere with Freeview DTV.
Ed Richards, Ofcom’s CEO, said:
“Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. 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.”
However the regulator warned that the need for new international agreements would make it likely that “none of these changes will take place until 2018 at the earliest“. Interestingly 700MHz is also the band that White Space (802.22) style services were hoping to use, although BT appears to be losing support for this idea, while Google and Microsoft seem to have a different plan.
Last month the UK government announced a new £35 million partnership between mobile phone operators, telecoms equipment makers and the University of Surrey that aims to develop the 5th Generation (5G) of mobile technologies.
Separately Ofcom revealed that the proportion of UK premises which cannot receive a 3G mobile signal (a 3G ‘not spot’) has fallen by a quarter, from 1.2% last year to 0.9%. The proportion of premises receiving a 3G signal from all mobile operators has increased to 77.3% (up from 73.1% a year earlier) and the 4G auction intends to make related services available to “at least” 98% of people.
On top of that there are now 16,000 WiFi access points (Hotspots) in places like cafés, transport hubs and other public spaces across the UK.