Ofcom will open up the 700MHz spectrum band for 4G services to ensure that the UK is able to meet the rising demand for mobile data services. The decision follows a similar plan from the European Commission.
The plan means that digital TV services, which currently use the 700MHz band, will have to move again, having already been shifted from the 800MHz band as part of the digital switchover.
However, Ofcom claims that the benefits of opening up the 700MHz band to mobile data services far outweigh the work involved.
“Enabling the 700MHz band to be used for mobile data will allow mobile networks to provide better performance at a lower cost, which will bring considerable benefits to citizens and consumers,” Ofcom said in a statement.
The decision comes after a consultation in May asking mobile and digital TV stakeholders to provide feedback on the plans. Ofcom said at the time that it had identified spectrum between 470MHz-694MHz that could house digital TV services.
"Our analysis suggests that, through more efficient frequency planning, it would be possible to reconfigure the DTT network in the spectrum between 470MHz-694MHz without materially affecting the coverage or channel mix that viewers currently enjoy," Ofcom said.
"This would not require another TV switchover (like the switch from analogue to digital TV) and could be accomplished without causing significant disruption to TV viewers."
Ofcom estimated the benefit to the economy of the move at £900m to £1.3bn.
Outgoing Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards explained that the latest decision is a “crucial next step” in securing the UK’s digital future.
“This decision ensures that we are making the raw materials available with which investors and companies can build the services which will support the digital economy of the future,” he said.
“More spectrum will be available for mobile broadband where demand is especially high, but the UK will retain a competitive terrestrial television platform as well.”
However, while Ofcom has touted the benefits of the move, it is unlikely that anything will happen until 2022, although Ofcom hopes to achieve the switchover by 2020 if everything goes smoothly.
The move to open up the 700MHz band for 4G services follows plans announced earlier in November by Ofcom to sell off Ministry of Defence spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands by early 2016 at the latest.
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