UK government sets aside £550M to clear 700 MHz spectrum

The UK government said up to £550 million (€781 million/$827 million) is to be invested over the next five years to free up the 700 MHz frequency band for mobile broadband use.

The government made the commitment in its Spending Review and Autumn Statement this week, and also said it aims to complete a £1.7 billion investment programme to ensure superfast broadband is available to 95 per cent of premises by 2017.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed plans in November last year to allocate 700 MHz frequencies to mobile operators.

Ofcom said it intended 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. The regulator said that the move will deliver benefits of between £900 million and £1.3 billion to the UK economy, and that it plans to complete the shift by the start of 2022 or earlier if possible.

The UK will thus follow France and Germany in allocating 700 MHz frequencies to mobile operators. France recently concluded the auction of six blocks of 700 MHz frequencies, and raised almost €2.8 billion ($2.96 billion) for government coffers.

Germany's auction of 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1500 MHz and 1800 MHz bands ended in June and raised over €5 billion, well above the reserve price of €1.5 billion.

Meanwhile the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-15), which closes its doors on Friday, reached a decision to expand the 700 MHz band (694-790 MHz) from a regionally harmonised band in the Americas and Asia Pacific to a global one.

WRC-15 also took the decision that the 470-694 MHz band will remain exclusively allocated to terrestrial TV services in ITU "Region 1", which includes Europe, Africa and the Middle East as well as several Eurasian markets and the Russian Federation.

However, the GSMA noted that some major markets such as the U.S., Mexico and Canada are supporting a mobile broadband allocation for the whole of the sub-700 MHz band (470-698 MHz).

"Sub-700 MHz spectrum is a natural extension of the Digital Dividend band above it (700/800 MHz bands), which offers the advantage of allocating contiguous blocks of spectrum for mobile broadband use. We look forward to seeing how international support builds for future mobile allocation below 610/4 MHz," said Brett Tarnutzer, head of spectrum at the GSMA.

For more:
- see the UK government's Autumn Statement

Related articles:
GSMA, EBU satisfied with WRC-15 spectrum allocations
GSMA chief regulatory officer calls for sub-700 MHz mobile allocation at WRC-15
France raises €2.8B from 700 MHz spectrum auction
German spectrum auction raises more than €5B
Ofcom will allocate 700 MHz frequencies to mobile operators by 2022