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UK Outlines Plans for 5G Spectrum in the Next Decade

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The UK's telecoms regulator, Ofcom has outlined plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices, which will help meet consumers' growing demand for data on the move.

Alongside the announcement, Ofcom has published new data on the UK's communications infrastructure, which shows that 20 million Gigabytes of data is now being consumed in a year over the country's mobile networks - more than twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes).

The regulator said that by 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today. Ofcom is therefore preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly '5G', when the spectrum becomes available.

The plans aim to draw on the 700 MHz frequency band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television, as part of future harmonised spectrum planning across Europe and the rest of the world. Releasing the new frequencies can be achieved without the need for another TV 'switchover'.

It is important that different countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should in turn reduce prices for consumers.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, 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."

Maintaining digital television

Ofcom's plans also seek to ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial TV (DTT), which can be achieved by ensuring alternative frequencies are available for DTT when the next generation of mobile broadband is introduced towards the end of the decade.

The changes will require an international spectrum plan to be agreed, and work on this is unlikely to be complete before 2018.

For the vast majority of viewers, moving DTT to different frequencies will require a simple retune of existing TV equipment. However, a small minority of consumers may need to change their roof top aerials - likely not before 2018. Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers.

Wireless hotspots revealed

Ofcom understands that future internet bandwidth will need to come from a variety of sources, including public Wi-Fi hotspots. For the first time, Ofcom has mapped the distribution of these hotspots, which allow people to access fixed-line internet on mobile devices.

There are now 16,000 Wi-Fi access points in places like cafés, transport hubs and other public spaces. However, consumers seem to prefer using their mobile network for internet access when out and about, rather than public Wi-Fi: around 25 times as much data is downloaded over mobile networks as over these Wi-Fi hotspots. This suggests there is an untapped opportunity for public Wi-Fi to help meet consumers' growing thirst for data.

Mobile coverage up

Coverage of mobile broadband has improved over the last year. The Infrastructure Report shows the proportion of UK premises which cannot receive a 3G mobile signal (being in 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. Mobile capacity and coverage will improve further following the auction of new 4G spectrum, as one of the 4G licences will require a service to be made available to at least 98% of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK.

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Tags: ofcom  UK