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Ofcom looking to boost UK mobile broadband services

Regulator considers opening up 700Mhz band, currently used for Freeview TV.

By Vinod

UK regulator Ofcom has announced it is looking into opening up a further frequency band to deal with the growing demand for mobile broadband services in the UK.

In order to increase the available capacity for 4G networks and the technology beyond these, the regulator is considering opening up the 700MHz frequency band, currently used for the Freeview television signal.

Viewers will not need to buy new boxes or televisions, though, as Ofcom says that additional spectrum will be made available for these signals, and says it has already identified potential bands.

The change means that most users will need to carry out a quick retune in order to continue accessing their channels, and a "very small minority" – around 1 in 200 households – may experience some issues, although Ofcom has promised that these homes will receive help in order to find a solution.

"The proposals in today’s consultation would mean viewers continue to have the free to view TV services they value without another ‘switchover’, while consumers and businesses would get faster and cheaper Internet on the move," the regulator said in a statement.

Ofcom believes that opening up the new frequency could have significant economic benefits, estimating a boost of somewhere between £900m to £1.3bn, without hampering the quality of digital broadcasting.

The regulator also estimated that demand for 4G by 2030 will be as much as 45 times greater than it is today.

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The 700MHz band, which is already used in many continental countries for mobile broadband services, could be released from broadcasting in 2022, or even two years before, depending on demand and public sentiment, with an auction on the band possibly being held as early as 2016.

Digital television services began broadcasting on the 700MHz band during a five-year switchover from the existing analogue signals, which ended in 2012. This changeover freed up the 800MHz band for LTE services, but did mean many viewers had to buy new equipment in order to keep receiving TV services.

Ofcom is now looking to open up a public consultation period on the matter until August 29, allowing the public to submit their opinions and comments. The regulator hopes to confirm a decision on any potential changes in use of the 700 MHz spectrum band in late 2014 or early 2015.


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