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Ofcom proposes 700MHz for mobile broadband

Kevin Hilton 21 November 2012
Ofcom proposes 700MHz for mobile broadband

UK broadcast and frequency regulator Ofcom last week issued new plans to avoid what it describes as a "mobile crunch" by drawing on the 700MHz band currently used for digital terrestrial television. While this could help expand HDTV, it could potentially erode broadcast spectrum access, particularly for radio mics. The World Radio Conference (WRC) proposed the freeing up of 700MHz spectrum earlier this year and could approve it in 2015. In the UK the 800MHz band is now being cleared and will be auctioned off next year. The expectation is that the majority of this will be used for 4G mobile broadband and new media devices. EE, which owns T-Mobile and Orange, stole a march on its telecom competitors in October by launching 4G services in 11 UK cities. The other mobile companies are due to introduce 4G next year. Ofcom sees the appetite for mobile data increasing, with demand possibly 80 times higher by 2030 than it is now. Explaining the situation, Ofcom’s chief executive, Ed Richards, said, "Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G. However, that may not be enough to meet consumers’ future data demands, which is why we are already making significant efforts to prepare to go beyond 4G. Our plans are designed to avoid a ‘capacity crunch’, ensuring that the UK’s mobile infrastructure can continue to support the inescapable growth in consumer demand and economic growth more generally." The regulator says it will guarantee the future of digital terrestrial TV (DTT) by making alternative frequencies available when the new mobile broadband services comes into operation at the end of this decade. The UK digital switch over was completed on 24 October when analogue TV was switched off in Northern Ireland. UK TV networks are now completely digital, with MPEG audio for standard definition channels and HE-AAC (High Efficiency Advanced Audio Coding) used on HD services. If 700MHz is deployed for mobile broadband, the majority of UK viewers would have to retune their TV equipment. In the most extreme cases people would have to replace their roof aerials. Charles Constable, chair of Freeview, the UK DTT platform, commented, "Despite its enduring popularity, television has been the poor relation in terms of spectrum allocation for the development of new services.  Making this unused spectrum available will further enhance the HD channels offered on Freeview, giving something back to millions of viewers and encouraging a new era of HD content. However, Ofcom has still yet to make the case to justify today’s proposed long term changes to allocate more future spectrum to mobile use, especially given the disruption they will cause to Freeview viewers." Any changes to 700MHz could also have severe consequences for users of radio mics and in-ear monitors in the PMSE (programme makers and special events) sector. Alan March, spokesman for industry group BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group), said putting mobile broadband into 700MHz would mean that "another 100MHz of spectrum would be gone and unavailable for PMSE". He added, "We’ve had the erosion of 800MHz and now maybe 700MHz. This is all happening now and I don’t know why broadcasters aren’t more animated about it." www.ofcom.org.ukwww.beirg.co.uk

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