UK path to 4G opens early


Regulator releases spectrum five months ahead of schedule

Britain's communications regulator, Ofcom has released a large section of radio spectrum required for 4G services to become wide spread in the country.

A four year process to release airwaves for 4G mobile broadband is being completed today, clearing the path for new superfast wireless broadband services in the UK.

A large section of the 800MHz radio spectrum is being released five months earlier than scheduled for 4G.

This spectrum was previously used for broadcasting digital TV channels and by wireless audio devices, such as wireless microphones. Clearing the airwaves has been achieved through a combination of transmitter upgrades by engineers and retunes of TV receivers carried out by viewers around the UK. Work was conducted at more than 600 transmitters across the UK, while wireless microphones now use alternative frequencies.

The final TV retune will be completed today by Freeview viewers in northern Scotland, marking the end of a major engineering programme carried out region-by-region. This will allow competing mobile companies to launch 4G services to UK customers using the cleared frequencies.

Last year, Ofcom secured an accelerated timetable for releasing these Freeview frequencies following discussions with TV broadcasters, Digital UK and the transmission company Arqiva. Wednesday's completion comes five months earlier than originally planned.

The 800 MHz spectrum was auctioned by Ofcom for use by 4G companies in February. This section of the airwaves is particularly suitable for offering mobile broadband coverage over wide areas, and penetrating buildings to provide a good indoor signal.

Ofcom's auction also involved a section of spectrum – the 2.6 GHz band – which is appropriate for carrying very large amounts of data in more concentrated areas. The use of 2.6 GHz spectrum by 4G operators requires some air traffic control and radar systems in neighbouring frequency bands to be upgraded, in order to avoid interference. This process is well underway and will be complete in most areas by the autumn.

UK operator, Everything Everywhere, has already launched 4G services using a different frequency band – 1800 MHz. The company also won rights to use 800 MHz spectrum in Ofcom's 4G auction, as did Vodafone, Three and Telefonica UK (O2).

Ofcom placed an obligation on one of the 800 MHz spectrum licences, won by Telefonica UK (O2), to cover 98% of the UK indoors by 2017.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: 'This week we are clearing the path for 4G mobile broadband, allowing mobile companies to provide coverage across the UK. 4G services will reach 98% of the UK population indoors, and even more when outdoors, which will provide a significant boost for rural businesses and consumers.'


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