Ofcom prepares to auction more frequencies for mobile broadband

For years, mobile network operators have been preparing to take over former terrestrial TV frequencies for their own use. Now they have the chance to access additional bandwidth vacated by the Ministry of Defence.

Ofcom has today confirmed plans for releasing the valuable 'new airwaves' that could be used to meet the growing demand for mobile broadband services.

An auction is planned to take place in early 2016 for the spectrum, which has been made available as part of a wider Government initiative to free up public sector spectrum for civil uses.

A total of 190 MHz of high-capacity spectrum is being made available in two bands - 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz - which are particularly suited for high-speed mobile broadband services, because they can carry large amounts of data. This is equivalent to around three-quarters of the spectrum released by Ofcom through the 4G auction in 2013.

Ofcom is setting reserve prices totalling £70m for the spectrum.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom Spectrum Group Director, said:
“Spectrum is the essential resource which fuels the UK’s wireless economy. This auction is an important step in ensuring that the UK has the wireless capability to deliver and support new technology.
“We’re responding to rapid change and innovation in the communications sector, which is placing greater demands on spectrum. Part of our plan to meet this demand is by making new spectrum available and allowing it to be used in a number of different ways.”

Unlike the TV frequencies being eye-balled by mobile network operators, the frequencies on offer in this auction are suitable for providing localised boosts to mobile broadband capacity in cities, shopping centres, railway stations and any other area where the number of people using mobile broadband simultaneously results in connectivity problems. TV frequencies are more suited to covering rural areas, but don't have the same capacity to cater for as many users at the same time.

With both the 700 and 800MHz ex-TV frequency bands to be used for mobile services, terrestrial broadcasters argue that rural areas will have ample bandwidth and coverage and that the frequencies being offered now are more suited to dealing with the surge in mobile demand.

Many top-range mobile devices are already able to make use of the ex-MoD frequencies being auctioned by Ofcom, with the frequencies already in use for 4G services in some countries.

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