UK’s Ofcom aims to accelerate clearance of 700 MHz spectrum

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UK regulator Ofcom said it would aim to make the 700 MHz band available for mobile broadband services by the second quarter of 2020 -- 18 months earlier than originally planned and in line with European Union guidelines for freeing up this frequency band.

The regulator said initial plans had indicated that it would be possible to make the band -- which is currently used by digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services -- 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.

Frequencies in the 700 MHz band are regarded as important for the further expansion of LTE and future 5G networks in Europe. In May this year, the European Council said the 700 MHz band should be made available for mobile broadband services across the European Union by 2020 as part of a harmonised approach to freeing up this spectrum band.

Germany and France were the first two countries in the region to carry out 700 MHz spectrum auctions, while Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the UK are among those that have outlined plans to repurpose the 700 MHz band in the next few years.

Ofcom first unveiled plans to free up spectrum in the 700 MHz band in 2014, but launched a consultation on accelerating this process in March 2016. The closing date for responses was May 20, 2016.

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As a result of the consultation, Ofcom has now put forward new proposals that it said would involve changing the frequencies used by some temporary DTT services, known as interim multiplexes, which operate in the 600 MHz band (550-606MHz).

Furthermore, the regulator is also now considering making 25 MHz in the middle of the band -- the so-called “centre gap” -- available for mobile data. It added that all proposals would be discussed with the government before any final decisions are made.

Speaking at last week’s NGMN Industry Conference and Exhibition, Alain Maloberti, SVP at Orange Labs Networks, said the sub-6 GHz bands are still crucial to enable the first stages of 5G, to ensure good coverage at a lower cost. He pointed out that the 700 MHz band could serve as the basis for this in the same way that 800 MHz spectrum has been used for 4G coverage.

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