Ofcom preparing for life after 4G to avoid capacity crunch


Regulator announces plans to cope with the increasing need for data by consumers as research shows that demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher by 2030

Ofcom has unveiled plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future mobile devices, which will help meet the growing demand for data.

Alongside this, the telecoms regulator has published new data on the UK’s communications infrastructure, which shows that 20 gigabytes of data is now being consumed in one month over the country’s mobile networks – more than twice as much as last year.

According to the Real Wireless report, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher by 2030. Ofcom said that to help meet this demand avoid a possible ‘capacity crunch’, more mobile spectrum is needed long-term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient.

It is now preparing plans to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly 5G, when the spectrum becomes available. The plan is based on the 700MHz band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television, as part of future harmonised spectrum planning globally. It said releasing the new frequencies can be achieved without the need for another TV ‘switchover’.

Ofcom added that it’s important that countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should therefore reduce prices for consumers.

Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report update, published today, states that while the arrival of 4G will provide much-needed mobile bandwidth, fixed networks are also developing quickly to keep pace with the growing use of the internet and other data-hungry services.

It also shows that coverage of mobile broadband has improved over the last year. The proportion of UK premises that cannmot receive a 3G mobile signal has fallen by a quarter to 0.9 per cent.

The proportion of premises receiving a 3G signal from all mobile operators has risen 4..2 per cent to 77.3 per cent. Ofcom said mobile coverage will further improve following the auction of 4G spectrum, as one of the 4G licences will require a service to be made available to at least 98 per cent of the UK population.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards (pictured) 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.”