UK's Ofcom planning for LTE and beyond at 700 MHz

The United Kingdom will hop onto the 700 MHz mobile broadband bandwagon around 2018, when telecom regulator Ofcom intends to open the band--currently used for UK digital terrestrial television--to mobile use.

"Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly '5G', when the spectrum becomes available," said the agency. The changes will require an international harmonized spectrum plan to be agreed upon, Ofcom added.

At the 2012 World Radio Conference (WRC) earlier this year, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Northern Asia passed a resolution signaling an intention to allow use of the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband, pending a final decision that is expected at the next WRC in 2015.

Trade group GSA recently announced that 1800 MHz spectrum is being used for more than 37 percent of the 133 commercial LTE networks worldwide. The second most popular band in which LTE systems are deployed is 2.6 GHz, followed by 700 MHz, which has been widely used in North America and Asia. Among other things, 700 MHz will be used for the planned U.S. nationwide public-safety broadband network.

Ofcom noted the target 700 MHz frequencies could be made available for UK broadband services without the need for another TV "switchover." The agency said it will seek to ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial TV by ensuring alternative frequencies, namely the 600 MHz band, are available for it once the next generation of mobile broadband is introduced towards the end of the decade. TV viewers may have to retune their TV equipment or change their roof-top aerials to work with the new frequencies, though that would likely not be needed prior to 2018.

Ofcom also published new data showing that 20 million gigabytes of data are being consumed each month over UK mobile networks. The number is more than twice the 9 million monthly gigabytes recorded last year and is equivalent to downloading 5 billion music tracks.

The average UK mobile customer uses 245 megabytes of data each month, twice as much as calculated a year earlier. "Half of all data transmitted in the UK is consumed by a 'hungry hardcore' of surfers, who account for just 10 percent of Internet users. Customers with slower connections use considerably less data," said Ofcom.

The agency noted there are now 16,000 Wi-Fi access points across the UK, but around 25x as much data is downloaded over mobile networks than over these Wi-Fi hotspots. "This suggests there is an untapped opportunity for public Wi-Fi to help meet consumers' growing thirst for data," said Ofcom.

Ofcom has scheduled an auction of 4G spectrum for January 2013. Reserve prices for the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands total £1.3 billion ($2.07 billion).

For more:
- see this Ofcom release
- see this GSA release
- see this GigaOM article
- see this The Next Web article

Related articles:
Verizon sells some lower 700 MHz B Block spectrum to Nortex Communications
Sprint, Verizon, others argue for role in building FirstNet 700 MHz LTE network
Schoolar: LTE at 1800 MHz is a universal band, except for North America
LTE speeds and performance
UK operators form JV to clear 800 MHz for rapid LTE launch


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