UK comms regulator Ofcom has announced it is to make valuable airwaves available for mobile broadband services, suggesting it is also securing the future of digital terrestrial TV. 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 says that as a result, consumers and businesses should get faster and cheaper mobile data services, while viewers can continue to enjoy the free-to-view TV services they value without another ‘switchover’. Ofcom’s objective is to make this happen by the beginning of 2022, and possibly up to two years earlier.
Ofcom 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.
Supporting the UK ’s wireless infrastructure
One of Ofcom’s core roles is to manage the limited supply of spectrum – the raw material necessary for all wireless communications – and balance the needs of different users.
According to Ofcom, 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.
Planning for the future
Ofcom suggests the decision marks a significant step in addressing the UK’s requirements for mobile data spectrum. The move will secure the UK’s position as a world leader for digital services, both mobile and TV.
Separately, Ofcom is towards releasing valuable new spectrum at other frequencies that could also be used to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband services. In October, 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.
Ofcom recognises that 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. For the vast majority, the move will require only a simple retune of existing TV equipment. A very small minority of households (about 0.5 per cent) might need to change their roof-top aerials – although this is unlikely to be necessary before 2019.
Ofcom has identified a number of frequency bands that wireless microphones could potentially use. Working closely with the PMSE community, Ofcom will confirm what spectrum will be available to them next year.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said the decision was 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,” he assured.
Ofcom says that it intends to ensure that the change occurs in a way that safeguards the important benefits that DTT and PMSE services deliver to citizens and consumers. Viewers will not need to take any action as a result of this change until around 2019. For the vast majority of TV viewers the only impact of this decision will be that they need to retune their televisions.