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Ofcom Moves to Free UK Airwaves for Ultrafast 5G Mobile Broadband

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 (11:55 am) - Score 1,139
5g mobile broadband

The national telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today issued a new “scoping document” (call for inputs) that will help to determine how existing radio spectrum in the UHF 700MHz (Digital TV) frequency band could be freed up for use by the next (5th) generation of future ultra-fast 5G based Mobile Broadband services.

Lower frequency spectrum (e.g. 700MHz) has a number of advantages, such as its ability to cover a wide area (usually for a lower cost) and better penetration through walls (useful for in-building coverage). By comparison higher frequencies (e.g. 2.6GHz) tend to require more cell sites to cover a similar area but this also means they have access to greater capacity.

But that’s not the full story. The United Kingdom was slow to make 4G spectrum available for mobile operators and it doesn’t want to make the same mistake again. On top of that Ofcom predicts that demand for mobile data will be 80 times higher in 2030 than today and it even envisages that mobile will eventually become a true “fixed line substitute“.

Ofcoms Statement

Ofcom has today published a call for inputs on the future use of the 700 MHz band. In the UHF strategy statement, published in November 2012, Ofcom explained the steps it intends to take to increase mobile broadband capacity by drawing on the 700 MHz frequency band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television (DTT) as well as programme making and special events (PMSE), as part of potential future spectrum harmonisation across Europe and the rest of the world.

Ofcom is now seeking views from stakeholders on the relevant factors to consider when assessing the costs and benefits associated with a potential future change of use of the 700 MHz band. Ofcom is also asking for inputs on the measures that it can and should take, ahead of any future change of use of the 700 MHz band, to reduce the disruption and costs which could result from a change of use of the band.

At present 3G and 4G services aren’t much of a threat to BT or Virgin Media and are usually better as a compliment than replacement for fixed line ISPs. The high cost of mobile data also makes it difficult for mobile to compete on service flexibility. Never the less this gap is slowly closing, fuelled by faster mobile speeds and cheaper calling plans; eventually mobile may be in a position to seriously erode the fixed line market.

This is why the UK government has already committed £35 million to establish a new collaborative international research centre (5G Centre) and the European Commission (EC) has also invested £43 million (€50m) to help research similar technologies for launch by 2020. But Ofcom similarly anticipates that the need for new international agreements would mean that none of its proposed changes for 5G are likely to take place until “2018 at the earliest“.

One of the reasons for this is that the 700MHz band is currently occupied by Digital Terrestrial TV (DDTV) services, which would need to be moved over to 600MHz (i.e. yes you’re all going to need a new Freeview TV receiver!). A final decision on this harmonisation of 700MHz and 600MHz is due be taken at the next World Radio Conference 2015 event.

The new document, which will be open to feedback until 5th July 2013, sets out some of Ofcom’s proposals for how best to achieve this and is primarily an early discussion document ahead of any advanced consultation. It’s worth noting that the USA and some other countries are already using 700MHz for 4G (LTE) services, which could eventually be upgraded to 5G.

Ofcom Document – Future use of the 700MHz band
http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/700mhz-cfi/

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar zemadeiran

    5G by 2030!?

    We’ll have quantum communication by then!

    Unlimited bandwidth over any distance and instantaneous to boot!

  2. Avatar Sledgehammer

    I dont think I will be around then to try it.

  3. Avatar Sledgehammer

    I think it will be a case of “rigor mortis

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