Ofcom looks to "5G" as mobile data use doubles

16 Nov 2012
mobile broadband

Regulator looks to 700MHz spectrum as mobile data demand increases

4G has only just arrived in the UK, and Ofcom is already making plans for its successor as it tries to stave off a "capacity crunch".

The telecoms regulator said the UK's mobile broadband use doubled from 20m GB a month from 9m GB a month last year - saying it expects growth to continue at a significant rate.

Because of that, and despite the fact that Ofcom's 4G spectrum auction has yet to take place, the regulator is looking to the future.

Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available

"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," the regulator said. "Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available."

To do that, Ofcom is eyeing the 700MHz frequency band, which it said is currently being used for digital terrestrial television. However, Ofcom said "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," it added.

Broadband increase

Ofcom's Infrastructure report also revealed improvements in fixed broadband. The percentage of connections with actual speeds of less than 2Mbits/sec fell to 10% from 14% overall last year - suggesting the government is making progress in its goal to ensure everyone in the UK has at least that speed by 2015.

Ofcom also revealed the scale of the ongoing broadband divide between cities and rural areas. While investment in Northern Ireland has helped shrink the divide there, the massive connectivity gap between rural areas and cities in Wales, Scotland and England continues.

"Northern Ireland now has the best SFBB [superfast broadband] availability and take-up in the UK, due in part to Government intervention," Ofcom claimed.

Ofcom noted that the discrepancy between the speeds people are actually receiving and the apparent availability of superfast services was down to the broadband packages they opted to sign up for, in-home wiring issues, long line lengths cutting into speeds, and other issues, noting that its own data collection methods may "slightly overestimate coverage as not all premises in a postcode will necessarily be able to receive service."

While progress is being made toward the 2Mbits/sec goal, Ofcom noted it may need to "evolve" to keep up with data demands, saying "it may be
appropriate to consider increasing the USC target in due course".

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