Ofcom today launched a consultation that could give mobile broadband users a big increase in the amount of radio spectrum available to them.
The airwaves, in the 800Mhz band, are particularly important because the signals they can carry over long distances and penetrate buildings. This could be crucial in extending broadband access to rural areas.
The consulation comes days after communications minister Stephen Carter published his interim report on Digital Britain. This aims to make access to broadband communications a universal service obligation for all communications services providers.
The move is part of the so-called 'digital dividend' that comes from reallocating frequencies as a result of the switch from analogue to digital television broadcasts.
Ofcom is askng if all the spectrum in the 800MHz band should be made available for new uses. This would be worth £2bn to £3bn over 20 years, says Ofcom, and would bring the UK into line with Europe.
The cost of movng existing users, mainly set-top TV tuners and wireless microphones, would cost no more than £200m. This could be recovered by selling licences to new owners, Ofcom said.
However, standards for very high speed (more than 21Mbps) mobile broadband technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE) are not yet available for the 800MHz band, it says, and their future adoption and use remains uncertain.
"In some mobile markets there are also benefits in the harmonised use of technologies across national borders, but there remains some uncertainty over the extent to which UHF spectrum that has historically been used for broadcasting will in practice be fully harmonised in Europe," Ofcom said.
Ofcom said the benefits to citizens and consumers of reallocating the band include
- lower equipment prices for consumers
- more efficient use of spectrum
- improved opportunities for new generations of mobile broadband, and
- more scope for competition and innovation in new wireless services.
Ofcom expects to publish a statement on the reallocation in summer and aims to hold an auction for the UK's digital dividend in 2010.