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UK comms regulator Ofcom has published plans to safeguard the future of digital terrestrial TV while ensuring the UK can meet the growing demand for mobile broadband.
Ofcom suggests the proposals in the consultation would mean viewers continue to have the free-to-view TV services they value without another ‘switchover’, while consumers and businesses would get faster and cheaper internet on the move.
Ofcom is also ensuring that users of wireless microphones, such as theatres, sports venues and music events, continue to have the airwaves needed to deliver their important cultural benefits.
The challenge for Ofcom is to carefully manage the limited supply of spectrum – our wireless infrastructure – and ensure that all users have access to the appropriate amount.
Part of this spectrum, the 700 MHz frequency band, is currently used for digital terrestrial TV and wireless microphones – a sector called ‘programme making and special events’.
Countries across the world are now looking at whether to use the 700 MHz spectrum band for mobile broadband.
Accordingly, Ofcom is consulting on proposals to change some of the frequencies that digital terrestrial TV services (such as Freeview) and wireless microphones use and make the 700 MHz band available for mobile broadband – by 2022, if not earlier.
Demand for mobile data in 2030 could be 45 times higher than today so more spectrum is needed, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient.
Maintaining free-to-view TV and wireless microphones
Digital terrestrial TV will continue to perform a vital role in providing viewers with low-cost, near-universal access to the public service TV channels. Ofcom is also encouraging industry to take the lead on developing new services, such as video-on-demand and more high-definition channels, which will allow digital terrestrial TV to develop and evolve.
Importantly, releasing the frequencies for mobile broadband would be achieved without the need for another TV switchover. For the vast majority of viewers, the move would require only a simple retune of their existing TV equipment.
A very small minority of households (about 0.5 per cent) might need to change their roof-top aerials – although this would be unlikely before 2019. Ofcom will continue to work with aerial installers and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers.
Ofcom is already working with the programme making and special events (PMSE) sector to understand its future needs. If Ofcom’s proposals go ahead, it will ensure that enough quality, alternative spectrum is available for wireless microphones, and several potential bands have already been identified.
Faster, cheaper and higher capacity mobile data
Ofcom’s proposals could help mobile network operators meet increasing demand for access to mobile data for 4G on smartphones, tablets and potentially next generation mobile services. This would mean lower prices and faster network speeds for businesses and consumers across the UK, delivering significant economic benefits.
Ofcom has also set out its longer-term strategy for enabling more spectrum to be freed up to meet the growing demand for mobile data. This builds on proposals announced earlier in 2014 to release spectrum currently used by the Ministry of Defence.
Ed Richards, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, said the regultor’s role was to ensure the UK makes the best and most efficient use of its airwaves, which is vital to enable UK’s digital economy to meet consumers’ needs. “Our plans will allow digital terrestrial TV to thrive, while ensuring the UK’s mobile infrastructure can support consumer demand and economic growth. We also recognise the important role the PMSE sector plays in the cultural life of the nation,” he added.