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Ofcom plans for 5G future while average broadband speeds grow

16 Nov 2012
Mobile spectrum antenna against sunset

Ofcom has outlined plans for a 5G future to ensure the UK can meet the huge growth of mobile data expected by 2030, despite auctions for future 4G services still to take place.

The communications regulatory today predicted mobile data demand in the UK could be 80 times higher by 2030 than it is currently, underlining the need to prepare the nation's spectrum holdings to meet this challenge.

Ofcom is planning to utilise the 700MHz band for future digital services. This spectrum is now used for digital TV services but Ofcom said its use would not require another "switchover", and could be used alongside the existing signals.

"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," said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

"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."

Part of the plans to avoid a clash between spectrum use will see some of the frequencies for digital television moved to the 600MHz band.

For most this will mean a simple retuning of their set-top boxes, although some may need new rooftop aerials, Ofcom said.

Ofcom said this would not be required until 2018 at the earliest and it will work with relevant stakeholders to minimise the impact on consumers as much as possible.

Ovum analyst Matthew Howett told V3 the move by Ofcom to start preparing for 5G so soon showed the regulator was keen to avoid the issues that have engulfed 4G, with the need for spectrum growing all the time.

"There's little choice but to make 700MHz available for mobile as it's the most harmonized spectrum band so we have to do what everyone else is doing. The only issues is that availability is some way off, unlikely to be before 2018," he said.

"Ofcom needs to open more spectrum to meet the European Commission's demands all nations make 1200MHz of spectrum available in total for mobile use, and at present it's only around half way there, so 700MHz, and others like 2.3GHz, will need to be used."

The demand for data access was also underlined by new figures from Ofcom's Infrastructure Report update, that found the average fixed-line internet connection in the UK has risen from 7.5Mbit/s last year to 12.7Mbit/s over the last year.

The report also found that coverage of mobile broadband has improved over the last year, with the percentage of premises that cannot receive a 3G mobile signal falling from 1.2 percent last year to 0.9 percent.

The rollout of 4G services will also help improve this overtime as the frequencies up for auctions, particularly the 800MHz, offer better services over longer distances.

The push for 5G technologies from Ofcom comes after the government announced funding for the University of Surrey to the tune of £35m to research 5G services.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

View Dan's Google+ profile

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