The Telecoms regulator Ofcom has approved European Commission plans to make more airwaves available to mobile broadband users, by reallocating frequencies currently used by broadcasters to operate digital television services, such as Freeview.
The 700Mhz bandwidth frequency is in high demand by mobile service providers, as customers use increasing amounts of data while on the go. In fact, Ofcom estimates that ‘demand for mobile data could be 45 times higher by 2030 than it is today’.
Ofcom wants broadcasters to move to alternative frequencies no later than 2022 and quite possibly earlier, and has put the cost of the move at around £660 million, because of the changes to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) transmission infrastructure that will be required.
However, due to the effectiveness and range of the 700Mhz signal compared to higher frequencies, the value of the change to mobile operators could be as much as £1.3 billion.
The biggest advantage of the 700Mhz band could be to consumers living in rural and poor-coverage areas, as the frequency is far better at travelling further and penetrating buildings than higher bandwidths.
In addition, according to Ofcom the changes will ‘allow mobile networks to provide better performance at a lower cost’, meaning faster and cheaper services for customers.
While Ofcom has promised that disruption to television and wireless microphone services will be minimal in most cases, requiring ‘only a simple retune of existing equipment’, around 100,000 households may need a new rooftop aerial, and a ‘small number’ may need a filter on their television sets to avoid interference from mobile signals.
The announcement has been met with some concern by senior figures in the broadcasting industry.
EBU Director of technology and innovation Simon Fell pointed out in an interview with Broadcast magazine that television channel migration requires space for the channels to move to, and plenty of time to co-ordinate the new frequencies with the different UK and European regions that operate within the 700Mhz bandwidth, as well as compensation for television service providers.
Mr Fell also warned that there will be less scope for the launch of new broadcast services as a result of the change.