TV viewers could face another major re-tune and TV aerial changes in 2018 to stop Britain running out of mobile broadband capacity.
Freeview could even be reduced to a rump of 20 channels if communications regulator Ofcom cannot find enough space for TV and mobile demand.
Mobile broadband use is expected to increase from 80 to 300 times between 2012 and 2030, while the rest of the world is using some European TV frequencies for mobile.
The mobile industry wants the whole world to use the same frequencies so they can offer cheaper devices and easier international roaming.
Ofcom’s proposal would give a slice of Freeview’s frequencies to mobile operators and move some Freeview to some frequencies emptied by switching off analogue TV.
The proposal could also open up space for ‘smart wireless’ devices using the gaps between Freeview for everything from rural broadband to smart utility meters.
Ofcom’s report on Securing Long Term Benefits from Scarce Spectrum resources says: “Spectrum is an essential building block in the communications sector, enabling the delivery of a wide range of services spanning television and radio through to mobile telephony, emergency services and outside broadcast event coverage.
“Changing the use of spectrum from one service to another can take several years and in some cases more than a decade, especially where new international agreements are required and where there are existing users of the spectrum whose requirements need to be taken into account.
“In contrast the pace of innovation and change in the communications sector is accelerating. In particular, there is an unprecedented growth in the demand for mobile broadband capacity.”
While Freeview could have to move around the airwaves, mobile broadband operators will have to move users from 2G and 3G onto 4G and Long Term Evolution technology, and increase the use of short-range WiFi hotspots.
Building more mobile phone masts would help, but it’s often hard to win planning permission in rural areas where the extra coverage is most-needed.
The frequencies used by Freeview are very attractive to mobile users because they can reach a long distance in rural areas and they penetrate buildings for better coverage in towns and cities.
Ofcom’s now looking for responses to its proposals for the future of UHF spectrum, until June 7, 2012.