Ofcom wants to release more spectrum for mobile broadband to cope with expected demand
Ofcom has identified a number of spectrum bands that could be used for mobile broadband, that when combined with other developments such as 5G, could increase the UK’s mobile capacity by more than 25 times by 2030.
The communications regulator says more efficient use of the country’s spectrum resources must be made due to increased dependence on mobile devices and services and the growth of the Internet of Things.
It says the amount of spectrum it has identified is around seven times the amount available at the 4G spectrum auction earlier this year, which was the largest ever sale of airwaves in the UK.
“The demands for mobile data will only increase as millions more wireless devices connect to the internet and each other,” says Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive. “We’re looking at ways to use spectrum more efficiently and consider future releases of prime spectrum. By doing so, we can help to meet the significant demands placed on our wireless infrastructure and develop one of the world’s leading digital economies.”
Ofcom says the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands used by the Ministry of Defence are prime candidates for mobile broadband services and it is hoping to release this spectrum for commercial use, possibly through an auction in 2015 or 2016.
The public sector controls half of the UK’s spectrum, says Ofcom, and it is working with the government to release more for commercial use. It already plans to release the 190MHz spectrum currently used by the MoD as early as 2015, most likely to 4G operators.
The regulator has also reiterated that it is looking at refarming the 700MHz frequencies currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) for mobile broadband, but stresses no decision has been made.
This reassignment would be controversial, as it would most likely require another digital switchover, but Ofcom says this would not happen before 2018 and that it would ensure customers could still receive DTT.
White spaces also form part of Ofcom’s spectrum plans, with Europe’s first major trial of the technology taking place in the UK with the support of Microsoft, Google and BT. The trial will use the 700MHz bands currently occupied by DTT and wireless microphones, choosing particular frequencies which are not occupied in a given location because of the pattern of TV transmitters.
However because the availability of white space radio spectrum depends on location, power level and the time of day, Ofcom will maintain a database on where the white spaces are and the power level that devices would need to be restricted to if they want to use them.
Longer-term plans could see the 2.7GHz band currently being used by radar reorganised to free up 100MHz of spectrum, while it is also suggested that the 3.6GHz band currently used for satellite links could be shared with mobile services.
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