UK's Ofcom mulls 700MHz auction to sidestep mobile data jam

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom is planning to auction spectrum in the 700MHz band for use by mobile broadband services. The bands, which are presently occupied by digital TV broadcasters, could become available starting in 2018, according to the Financial Times.

Ofcom says that this move is necessary to "avert a mobile data crunch" and believes that digital TV transmissions could be moved or run alongside mobile data services. The regulator predicts that demand for mobile data will experience an 80-fold increase between 2012 and 2030--or as much as 300-fold--driven by smartphones, tablets and mobile video usage.

"The 700MHz band, which is currently used to deliver digital terrestrial TV (DTT) and other services on an interleaved basis, represents the most attractive option for providing additional lower frequency spectrum," Ofcom said in announcing its plans to study the issue. 

While Ofcom has launched a consultation programme on the proposal, it has already conducted a technical appraisal of the likely benefits. A study commissioned by the government body indicated that using the 700MHz band could "materially reduce" the number of cellular masts required to meet expected growth in demand for mobile broadband. There are currently about 30,000 antenna sites in the UK, according to the Financial Times.

It has also been suggested that further DTT switchovers would release spectrum in the 600MHz range, which could then be used for digital TV and whitespace broadband services.

Ofcom acknowledges that using the 700MHz band for LTE would bring the UK in line with the United States, and potential Asian, Australian and African countries that are planning to use this band for mobile broadband. The UK auction for LTE spectrum in the 800MHz band is scheduled to begin by the end of the year.

For more:
- see this Ofcom consultation (PDF)
- see this Financial Times article (reg. req)
- see this V3 article
- see this Telecom Paper article (sub. req.)

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