Ofcom announces plans for 5G networks as mobile data demand soars
While most of us are awaiting widespread 4G (that works indoors as well as out, EE), UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has published plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices – 5G – which will help meet consumers’ growing demand for data on the move.
Ofcom has found that some 20 million Gigabytes of data is now being consumed each month over the UK’s mobile networks – more than twice as much as in 2011’s 9 million Gigabytes – and is equivalent of downloading 5 billion music tracks. By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than this.
To help meet this demand and avert a possible ‘capacity crunch, more mobile spectrum is needed over the long term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient. Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available.
The plans aim to draw on the 700 MHz frequency band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television, as part of future harmonised spectrum planning across Europe and the rest of the world. Releasing the new frequencies can be achieved without the need for another TV ‘switchover’.
It is important that different countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should in turn reduce prices for consumers.
Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, explains: “Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G. Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally.”
Ofcom’s plans also seek to ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial TV (DTT), which performs an important role in providing low-cost, near-universal access to the public service TV channels. This can be achieved by ensuring alternative frequencies are available for DTT when the next generation of mobile broadband is introduced towards the end of the decade.
The changes will require an international spectrum plan to be agreed, and work on this is unlikely to be complete before 2018. Over the coming years, Ofcom will plan and prepare to ensure the changes are in the best interests of UK citizens and consumers.
For the vast majority of viewers, moving DTT to different frequencies will require a simple retune of existing TV equipment. However, a small minority of consumers may need to change their roof top aerials – likely not before 2018. Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers.