Ofcom plans to use more TV frequencies to feed nation's appetite for data

Ofcom has today outlined its long term plans to convert frequencies currently used for digital TV in the UK for use by telecommunications companies. This is in addition to the current process of clearing frequencies for the new 800 MHz 4G service, launching next year.

At stake are frequencies in the 700 MHz frequency band, which are widely used for Freeview TV services at the moment. Ofcom expects demand for data to be 80 times greater than today, so needs to find additional frequencies to convert to data usage to avoid a "capacity crunch". It is talking about using the extra frequencies for a possible "5G" mobile internet service. Any changes would not take place until 2018 at the earliest, and would have to be co-ordinated on an international level.

Ofcom 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."

In its analysis, Ofcom stated that "The average mobile customer used 245 MBytes of data in the month, twice as much as in the year before."

Staggeringly 10% of broadband users account for half of all data consumed on the net each month.

On the subject of the effect on Freeview viewers, Ofcom said in a press release: "For the vast majority of viewers, moving DTT to different frequencies will require a simple retune of existing TV equipment. However, a small minority of consumers may need to change their roof top aerials – likely not before 2018. Ofcom plans to work from an early stage with aerial installation groups and retailers to minimise any impact on viewers."

Earlier this year, transmitter company and digital multiplex operator Arqiva estimated that 30% of households would be affected by an aerial change.

However, there are concerns that households will be unduly penalised by Ofcom's plans, as some households will already need changes to their aerial set up next year when 4G comes in. Affected households will receive 1 filter to block out 800 MHz interference, but need to pay for additional filters for secondary TV sets. Today's plan means that householders who were not able move to satellite, cable or internet television by 2018 would be affected again, as another filter would need to be installed, and wideband aerials needed in some locations to receive the full range of TV signals would become redundant. There are already concerns, led in the past week by John Whittingdale MP that the effect of mobile broadband signals in the former TV frequency band has not yet been tested enough so as to avoid TV blackouts for some viewers.

As part of today's announcement by Ofcom, the regulator made public proposals by the BBC, Channel 4 and Arqiva to add extra HD channels on Freeview using frequencies that are currently lying dormant until 2018: Read more...
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