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

mobile broadband

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 16 Nov 2012 at 16:28

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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User comments

"doubled from 20m GB a month from 9m GB a month"

First from should be to.

Anyone have any idea when (or even if) the crunch will happen? I've stayed with 3 because they're less likely to have problems further down the line of my two year contract than resellers like giffgaff and Virgin.

By Mark_Thompson on 16 Nov 2012


I reckon I account for a decent proportion of that increase, having moved from limited O2 to unlimited giffgaff (O2 network).
The network problems suffered on giffgaff have also affected O2 users... no network is guaranteed to be trouble free. Every other network I've tried here has been utter crap.

By dubiou on 16 Nov 2012

@ dubiou
I was thinking more in terms of contention and bandwidth.

By Mark_Thompson on 18 Nov 2012

Get the basics right first...

While I'm sure Ofcom is right about the bandwidth "crunch" (there's a first time for everything!) there are other underlying matters to deal with first.

The first issue is simply coverage. To call it "patchy" outside major conurbations (i.e. London) is over-generous. Maybe if Ofcom started insisting on standards here we'd all feel better?

Most UK mobile companies don't support Visual Voicemail properly. Some support Apple, none, as far as I'm aware support the VV cooked into WP7 & 8.

No UK network, not even the much-hyped EE looks like its going to support "Data Sense" in WP8.

The possible reasons for this are many & varied, but basically its simply greed & sloth.

By wittgenfrog on 19 Nov 2012

@ Mark

The fact is that if you're outside major conurbations, coverage is the primary factor and the only way to know what a provider is like in a certain area is to test all of them - initially just for signal in your regular haunts, then for reliability (capacity discounted).
In towns you can assume coverage (but will still get blackspots). Capacity a major player now - again, only way to know is to test them all.

The best way of

By dubiou on 20 Nov 2012


... avoiding testing in towns would be to check user forums for general network reliability and location specific reviews.

By dubiou on 20 Nov 2012

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