Ofcom Could Reassign 700MHz For Mobile Broadband

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Frequency used for digital television could be used to increase mobile capacity

Ofcom is exploring the possibility of releasing the 700MHz spectrum to be used for mobile broadband.

The regulatory authority has launched a consultation to ascertain the feasibility of the proposal to reuse the spectrum which is currently used for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services such as Freeview.

Global standard

The stated aim of the consultation is to see if the frequencies can be reassigned to allow the UK to cope with the expected growth in mobile broadband traffic caused by the increasing adoption of smartphones and tablets.

Ofcom already plans to sell 800MHz and 2.6MHz spectrum to mobile operators in the perpetually-delayed 4G auction later this year, but says that capacity could be increased through the reuse of the 700MHz spectrum, and decrease the cost of network deployment as fewer sites would be needed. Lower frequencies also tend to provide a better quality of service, especially indoors.

Another reason that the spectrum is being considered is that 700MHz is increasingly being viewed as an international standard for mobile broadband services, something that would certainly back up Apple’s claim that its new iPad supports what is generally accepted to be a 4G network.

The bandwidth is used in the US for Long Term Evolution Services (LTE), while Australia and New Zealand have also announced plans to use it. Many African countries have a strong desire to launch services on this band and the 2012 World Radio Conference has also pledged its support.

Unlikely scenario

However Ofcom acknowledges that the fact that DTT services currently occupy the spectrum makes it difficult to reassign it for other uses, especially since it considers television to be a valuable public service and that it is subject to international co-operation agreements. Other services that have 700MHz bandwidth include the emergency services and applications using white space devices.

The earliest that an agreement could be renegotiated would be 2018, a time when DTT is still likely to be seen as vital and superfast broadband services not widely adopted to provide a viable IPTV alternative. It also says that this would burden many people with the cost of having to get a broadband subscription or a satellite dish.

Earlier this month, it was predicted that traffic over mobile networks could essentially double every year. In the UK, fears have persisted that traffic caused by this Summer’s Olympic Games could bring mobile networks to a standstill, causing Ofcom to rent spectrum from the Ministry of Defence for the duration of the event.

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