Ofcom on Wednesday confirmed it will open up the 700 MHz frequency band to mobile operators for wireless broadband services.
Ofcom CEO Ed Richards
The UK regulator plans to open airwaves currently used for digital terrestrial TV (DTT) services to mobile operators in a bid to deliver cheaper and faster mobile data services to consumers. Ofcom said that the move will deliver benefits of at least £900 million (€1.1 billion/$1.4 billion) to £1.3 billion to the UK economy, and that it plans to complete the shift by the start of 2022 or earlier if possible.
Outgoing CEO Ed Richards pledged to ensure the UK still has competitive DTT services, but noted the decision is a "crucial next step in the development of the UK's communications infrastructure."
The decision ensures that the regulator is "making the raw materials available with which investors and companies can build the services which will support the digital economy of the future," he added.
Ofcom said the decision, which is the outcome of a consultation process started in May, will enable mobile operators to provide "better performance at a lower cost." The regulator explained that signals in the 700 MHz frequency "reach further and pass through walls and other obstructions more easily than signals transmitted at higher frequencies."
Another benefit is that global efforts to utilise the 700 MHz frequency band will result in economies of scale in terms of manufacturing compatible mobile devices and other necessary equipment, Ofcom noted.
Existing DTT services and wireless communications used by theatres, musical and sports events (PMSE services) that currently use the 700 MHz frequency will be shifted to other frequencies to enable the change. Ofcom said it will "ensure that the change occurs in a way that safeguards the important benefits that DTT and PMSE services deliver".
The regulator noted that freeing up more spectrum is essential to allow mobile operators to meet burgeoning demand for wireless data services.
The 700 MHz decision comes a week after Ofcom revealed it is consulting on plans to auction spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands in late 2015 or early 2016.
Meanwhile Ofcom separately announced that its current international director of strategy at its Technology and Economist Group, Steve Unger, will step up to the post of acting CEO at the end of the year. Unger will steer the regulator following the departure of Richards, who last month announced he is stepping down. Ofcom said it expects to appoint a permanent CEO in 2015.
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