Ofcom said the 700 MHz frequency band in the UK could be cleared for use by mobile data services no later than the second quarter of 2020, after the telecoms and media regulator said analysis suggested that benefits to users would be greater if the spectrum were available at an earlier date than originally planned.
This would also bring the UK in line with proposals made by the European Commission that more spectrum should be made available for mobile services in this frequency band across the European Union by 2020.
The UK regulator has now launched a consultation on accelerating the clearance of the 700 MHz band, which is currently used by digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services. The closing date for responses is May 20, 2016.
Ofcom first announced in November 2014 that it had decided to make spectrum in the 700 MHz band available for mobile data as soon as practicably possible, in alignment with the approach by the European Union.
"Initial plans indicated that it would be possible to make the band available by the end of 2021. However, our analysis suggests that benefits to citizens and consumers would be greater if it was available sooner," Ofcom said. "In this document we set out proposals which would enable us to bring forward the point at which this spectrum is nationally available for mobile data by up to 18 months -- to a target of no later than Q2 2020."
The regulator noted that this would involve changing the frequencies used by some temporary DTT services, known as interim multiplexes, which operate in the 600 MHz band (550 - 606 MHz). It is also considering making available 25 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band -- known as the "centre gap" -- for mobile data.
Ofcom also revealed that it has updated its code of practice for spectrum clearance activities to take account of 700 MHz clearance. The UK regulator last revised the code in 2010 to include the work that licensees needed to carry out in relation to the clearance of the 800 MHz band.
In February, the European Commission (EC) stepped up efforts to coordinate the use of 700 MHz spectrum for mobile services only, proposing that more spectrum is made available for mobile services in this frequency band across the EU by 2020.
The recent World Radiocommunication Conference in November 2015 (WRC-15) confirmed that the 700 MHz band should be allocated to both the broadcasting and mobile service in Region 1 (Europe and Africa) as of 2015.
However, the view of the EC is that the 700 MHz band "offers a rare opportunity for near-global harmonisation of this frequency band for wireless broadband use", and wants to secure it for the future development of 4G and 5G mobile services across the EU.
The commission proposed that the 700 MHz band should be assigned to mobile broadband by Jun. 30, 2020 at the latest in all EU countries.
France and Germany have already authorised the use of the 700 MHz band for mobile services, while Denmark, Finland, Sweden as well as the UK have outlined plans to repurpose the 700 MHz band in the next few years.
EC seeks greater European harmony on 700 MHz for mobile services
TeliaSonera and Ericsson plan launch of 5G services in Stockholm, Tallinn in 2018
EC's Oettinger gives 5G pep talk to operator, vendor chiefs
Spectrum comes into focus as WRC-15 and auctions shape mobile's future- Year in Review
UK government sets aside £550M to clear 700 MHz spectrum