Ofcom to release new airwaves to make way for 5G mobile broadband

By Andrew Ferguson

The move towards a harmonised spectrum for mobile broadband was expected; with the latest announcement by Ofcom we now have a vague timetable that allows us to look at the likely impact.

There is unlikely to be international agreement on changes to the spectrum use prior to 2018, so people can be re-assured that once filter changes are carried out to their FreeView box when 4G is rolled out, that the device should work till at least 2018. This is well beyond the life span of most set-top boxes given how people upgrade them to gain more features anyway. While the change should be easy for most people, there may be a very small number who need an aerial upgrade, as some aerials may be too narrowband to cope with a shift down the radio spectrum.

Coming so soon after all the hassle of the Digital Switchover and the issuing of filters to avoid 4G interference once the 800 MHz band rolls out in 2013, shows how cramped the radio spectrum has become. It is entirely possible that FreeView may be less popular in five or six years, as the increasing popularity of IPTV services erodes the concept of a major TV event where the nation all watches at the same time.

There are predictions that by 2021 some TV channels which currently buy satellite transmission capacity and a FreeView channel will find it cheaper to use Internet-based playback to deliver a TV show to audiences of one million viewers or less. The level of integration between set-top boxes and broadband connections is improving, as witnessed by the interface on YouView devices that provide a seamless catch-up TV service.

What is interesting is that Ofcom is worrying about a mobile data crunch. The figure of 20 million GigaBytes per year is quoted, but when you consider that for fixed line broadband the similar figure is 5,878 million GigaBytes you can see that mobile is currently still well behind the curve compared to fixed line broadband. While we believe that mobile broadband usage will increase, the biggest barrier to this is the usage allowances and cost of excess data on mobile tariffs. Only if these drastically change will we see mobile broadband usage ever approach that of fixed line broadband.

The 20 million GigaBytes a year is actually only 83MB a month, if we assume that 20 million people make use of data on their mobile phone each year (the UK has over 62 million mobile phones).

With the rise in popularity of high spec smartphones and portable tablets it was not unexpected to see that mobile data usage has more than doubled in the last 12 months. However, as ownership of these devices reaches saturation point we may see mobile usage growing less rapidly.

About author

Editor of thinkbroadband.com, Andrew Ferguson, joined the team after the site’s launch in 2000. He is a widely acknowledged expert on broadband and also chairs the ISPA Awards judging panel. His previous occupations include software developer for Vision Research.

About company

Thinkbroadband.com is the longest running independent UK broadband information website and has been running over ten years, with its staff having some of the most comprehensive experience in this area. Find ‘thinkbroadband’ on Twitter for more broadband news updates twitter.com/thinkbroadband.

Relevant links

Ofcom – Ofcom unveils plans to avoid mobile ‘capacity crunch’

Thinkbroadband – 4G auction not over, but time to start talking 5G

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