Ofcom announces handover of 700MHz band from broadcast to mobile broadband use

UK regulator and competition authority Ofcom has announced a decision to ‘make airwaves available for mobile broadband services’. The decision allows mobile network operators to deliver mobile broadband using some of the frequencies currently used for digital terrestrial TV services, such as Freeview and wireless microphones. These frequencies make up the 700 MHz frequency band.

Ofcom’s objective is to make this happen by the beginning of 2022 and possibly up to two years earlier  – in line with European Commission proposals outlined in September. This will require broadcast users to move to alternative frequencies, and will require a programme of modifications to DTT transmission infrastructure.

Ofcom says it will also ensure that users of wireless microphones in the programme making and special events (PMSE) sector, such as theatres, sports venues and music events, continue to have access to the airwaves they need to deliver their important cultural benefits.

The UK regulator says one of its core roles is to manage the limited supply of spectrum and balance the needs of different users. Demand for mobile data could be 45 times higher by 2030 than it is today. Mobile service providers will need access to more spectrum than they have now to support this growing consumer demand for internet on the move on smartphones and tablet devices.

Ofcom says it has identified a number of frequency bands that wireless microphones could potentially use. Working with the PMSE community, Ofcom will confirm what spectrum will be available to them next year.

Separately, Ofcom says it is taking towards releasing ‘valuable’ new spectrum at other frequencies that could also be used to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband services. This month, potential bidders were invited to comment on proposals for Ofcom’s auction of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands, which is expected to take place in late 2015 or early 2016.

Digital terrestrial TV viewers will be required to retune existing TV equipment. The regulator says ‘a very small minority of households’ (about 0.5%) might need to change their roof-top aerials – although this is unlikely to be necessary before 2019.

Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, 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.”

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