Ofcom wants the airwaves cleared for 5G mobile broadband services by 2022 at the latest.
The 700MHz radio frequency band, currently occupied by Freeview, will need to be vacated to make way for future mobile broadband services.
While the UK’s telecoms regulator had always intended for this to happen today’s decision, which comes after months of consultation, makes that a certainty.
Ofcom’s CEO Ed Richards said: “This is a crucial next step in the development of the UK’s communications infrastructure. This decision ensures that we are making the raw materials available with which investors and companies can build the services which will support the digital economy of the future.
“More spectrum will be available for mobile broadband where demand is especially high, but the UK will retain a competitive terrestrial television platform as well.”
The 700MHz radio frequency band is desirable for mobile services because it’s better at penetrating walls of buildings and covering wide areas than services on the 1800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. This adds up to greater indoor coverage and wider coverage overall.
As lower frequency signals can travel long distances, it’s particularly of interest to customers living in rural and hard to reach areas – one reason why EE is trialling 4G voice calls on the 800MHz band in leafy Oxfordshire, not noisy central London.
A small problem is that the 700MHz band is mainly used by digital terrestrial TV signals – in other words Freeview and YouView. In order for 5G to arrive, Freeview customers will need to retune again.
The good news is that Ofcom expects that the most people will need to only retune their Freeview equipment and it won’t be until 2019 that we’ll have to start doing this.
Regular readers might remember the initial worries over 4G, that it might cripple Freeview reception for millions of homes. It didn’t turn out to be quite so bad in the end. It’s not yet known if the arrival of 5G will mean those of us with digital terrestrial TV will need to buy another set of filters.
Ofcom originally expected to have a 5G spectrum auction rolling by 2018, but as technological standards for 5G have yet to be defined, this is being pushed back.
Data use is now expected to be be 45 times the level it currently is today by 2030. Ofcom wants to make more room in the airwaves for mobile services, so our future hunger for high definition selfies, 4K streams and whatever else we’ll be doing over the next 16 years can be sated.
In the meantime, Ofcom is planning on auctioning off some more slices of the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum. It’s expected that this will be used to augment the LTE-Advanced services currently live on 2.6GHz bands and fixed location 4G services such as the ‘fibre-like’ product offered by London-based ISP Relish.
This auction is expected to take place at some point late next year or in early 2016.