UK regulator to free up 700MHz band for operators, safeguard digital TV

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Mobile operators in the UK will be able to deploy networks on the 700MHz frequency band after Ofcom announced plans to free up some of the airwaves currently used by digital television and wireless microphone services. 

The regulator said it was aiming to make the 700MHz band available to operators by the beginning of 2022, but added it was optimistic it could happen as early as 2020.

The move would allow operators to deliver better performing networks at a lower cost, whilst bringing “considerable benefits” to end-users, Ofcom said.

Although some digital terrestrial television (DTT) services and microphone communications will be moved to new frequencies, some DTT service will remain on the 700MHz frequency so that broadcasters will not have to perform another switchover.

The decision brings an end to a consultation period that began in May, when Ofcom announced it was eyeing the 700MHz frequency in order to meet the demands of predicted 45-fold increase in mobile traffic by 2030.

Among the benefits of using the spectrum for mobile broadband is that it is the only one seen as available for widely harmonised spectrum use, with France, Sweden and Finland having already announced plans to it.

Ed Richards, Chief Executive at Ofcom, commented: “This is a crucial next step in the development of the UK's communications infrastructure. 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.

“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.” 

Adrian Baschnonga, Lead Telecoms Analyst at EY, said 700 MHz spectrum had “a key role to play in supporting the UK’s digital economy” by boosting both indoor and outdoor network coverage while also reducing the costs of network rollouts.

However, he warned: “While the prospect of another digital switchover has been avoided, ensuring that disruption to the entertainment industry and consumers is kept to a minimum will be mission-critical in the long-term.”

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