The EU wants to begin clearing the airwaves for the rollout of 5G services, roughly eighteen months before the UK plans to.
European Commission proposals would require EU member states to clear the so-called 700MHz radio frequency band – 694-790 MHz – which is currently used for digital terrestrial TV services like Freeview throughout Europe. This will to make way for ‘wireless broadband electronic communications services’ – 5G to you and me – by mid-2020.
The EU wants 5G services to be up and running across the continent by 2020 in order to ‘reap the socioeconomic benefits’ of future services including smart cities, connected cars and ‘enabled the pervasive Internet of Things’. It also wants this to happen at the same time to avoid any cross-border interference, something which residents of the south of England may be familiar with.
This ambition flies in the face of plans laid by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom, which had aimed for 5G services to be live in the UK by 2022.
Ofcom’s November 2014 document on vacating the 700MHz band – which will involve another retune – included statements from Arqiva, which said it could begin to move to new frequencies from 2019, with a view to getting the job done by the end of 2021.
Arqiva, the company that operates the UK’s terrestrial TV masts, estimated that this work alone would cost between £420-£470 million. Ofcom also estimated the total cost for consumers replacing obsolete TV aerials to be £3-£6 million, based on an average cost of £150 per aerial.
The UK government has previously argued that the popularity of digital terrestrial TV in the UK is one of the many reasons why it shouldn’t rush into a spectrum clearance for 5G.
The Commission’s plans will need to be approved by the European Parliament, which contains 73 UK MEPs, and the Council of the EU before the member states are required to abide by them. Unless of course a Brexit absolves the UK of all such commitments.