Ofcom to free up 700MHz spectrum for mobile networks

Telecoms regulator Ofcom hopes to avoid a capacity overload on mobile networks by releasing more frequencies by 2018

Ofcom has announced plans to make more spectrum available in the next five years to pave the way for growth in the mobile industry.

The telecoms operator said it would free up the 700MHz frequency, currently used for digital television signals, in 2018, after regulators from around the world agreed this was the right band to pursue for future services during the World Radio Conference 2012.

Ofcom said it was imperative a common band was agreed to ensure compatibility with new products brought to market.

“In the coming months, we will hold the UK’s largest ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G,” said Ed Richards, CEO of Ofcom. “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,” he said.

Digital television will be moved to the 600MHz band which, due to the technology behind it, should take no more than a retuning of Freeview boxes, although the regulator admitted a few users may have to replace their rooftop aerials.

We are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G

Ed Richards, CEO, Ofcom

“Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers,” read a statement from the organisation.

The announcement came coupled with Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report, which showed the growth of both fixed-line and mobile connections in the UK.

The study claimed 65% of premises in the UK now could now access superfast broadband if they chose to, but only 7% had taken it up.

It also revealed that the average speed of a fixed-line connection had shot up by 69% over the past year, moving from an average of 7.5Mbps to 12.7Mbps.

The use of mobile data had grown exponentially in the past 12 months as well, Ofcom reported, with the average use being 254MB per month – double that of last year’s figure.

“The UK's communications infrastructure is changing quickly as a result of rapid developments in consumers' use of communications services and the resulting investment by operators,” said Ofcom. “This [report] highlights some of the most notable changes.” 


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