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5G UK: Ofcom plans 2018 auction for 700MHz

What is the 5G UK plan?

Latest news for 5G UKThe 4G auction had barely begun but Ofcom was already laying out its plans for 5G.

The next-next-generation of mobile services is expected to arrive in the UK in 2018 and will occupy some of the 700MHz slice of the broadcast spectrum – yet another patch that’s currently occupied by Freeview.

Ofcom says that there’s a coming ‘capacity crunch’ – currently 20 million Gigabytes (GB) are consumed a month by gadget-hungry Brits and this only looks set to increase. It’s estimated that by 2030, demand for data will be 80 times higher than it is today.

5G UK: Ofcom plans 2018 auction for 700MHz

Why use 700MHz for mobile broadband?

Keeping in line with the rest of the world, Ofcom wants to start using some of the spectrum used by digital terrestrial TV.

This harmonisation makes sense for mobile manufacturers, who don’t have to individually configure the radio inside each device for for specific regions.

It also means that devices will be cheaper for the end user because they can be manufactured en masse.

What is 5G?

It’s a good question. Many companies are working on standards for future high speed wireless broadband technology that they’re calling ‘5G’, but there’s no defined family of standards as was the case with 3G and 4G LTE. 

Even these are quite fluid groups, with different mobile network operators and device manufacturers operating different versions of the same general 3G and 4G technologies.

It’s quite possible that where 700MHz is concerned, 5G will represent the use of advanced 4G technology, but optimised to work in the 700MHz frequency range. Certainly in Europe, mobile network operators and device manufacturers will need to agree a set of standards so that devices can work across different networks.

This isn’t only important for users roaming across different countries, but so that manufacturers can sell the same phones to many operators without expensive revisions that make them too expensive for consumers.

What does 5G UK mean for Freeview?

On the surface, it looks to be yet another blow for Freeview customers, some of whom invested hundreds of Pounds in Freeview equipment prior to the Digital Switchover, only to find that, as we heard in March, the TV platform could be reduced to a rump of just 20 channels.

To avoid this, Ofcom has also announced that the 600MHz band be reserved for future digital terrestrial TV. Ofcom has pledged to ‘ensure that the DTT platform [Freeview] can access alternative frequencies assuming that some of its spectrum will be reallocated for mobile use’.

Charles Constable, chair of Freeview, welcomed the news: “Freeview is the Nation’s most popular way to watch television so Ofcom’s clear long term commitment to the platform is welcome.”

He added that Ofcom should also ringfence spectrum for HD versions of the UK’s Public Service Broadcast (PSB) channels – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5:

“There is a real opportunity for Ofcom to demonstrate that commitment by allocating spectrum in the immediate future for HD services in accordance with the proposals from the BBC, Channel 4 and Arqiva.

“However Ofcom has still yet to make the case to justify today’s proposed long term changes to allocate more future spectrum to mobile use, especially given the disruption they will cause to Freeview viewers.”

In a post-Digital Switchover world it was expected that once the analogue signal had been switched off for good, we’d see far more HD channels broadcast on Freeview.

Though not due to kick off until 2018, you have to wonder how many Freeview customers might actually be left after 5G rollout.

Latest news for 5G UK

Image credit: Flickr user Shandchem

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