U.K. regulator unveils plans for TV spectrum overhaul

Repurposing television spectrum to meet growing demand for wireless data usage isn’t simply a strategy being pushed in the United States; the U.K. has gotten into the act as well with its own plan to tap 700MHz spectrum currently used by terrestrial television transmission for the next generation of wireless service and mobile devices.

Ofcom, the U.K. equivalent to the FCC, announced plans Nov. 16, 2012, to make more spectrum available for use by mobile devices. The spectrum plans will make possible the introduction of 5G wireless services when they become available in the future.

To underscore the need for spectrum, Ofcom said current monthly data use on the nation’s mobile networks reaches “20 million Gigabytes,” which is more than twice the level of a year ago. By 2030, demand for data could be 80 times higher than today, the regulator said.

By drawing on spectrum currently allocated to OTA TV broadcasting, Ofcom hopes to meet future wireless demand. The move will also harmonize future spectrum planning across Europe, the agency said.

Ofcom said it also recognizes the important role of TV broadcasting and that it will seek to “ensure the long-term future of digital terrestrial TV.” To do so, Ofcom will make available alternate frequencies, most likely in the 600MHz band, for digital terrestrial television transmission when the next generation of mobile devices is introduced toward the end of the decade.

At the earliest, the 600MHz band will be made available to broadcasters of HD services on Freeview, the U.K.’s free-to-air TV service, in 2018, Ofcom said. As has happened in the United States, the regulator will look for “white spaces” in the band for use by White Space Devices and wireless microphones.

Before spectrum repurposing moves forward, an international agreement on spectrum use must be agreed upon. Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Northern Asia agreed to a resolution at the 2012 World Radio Conference in Geneva, signaling an intention to allow mobile broadband use of 700MHz bands. A final go-ahead is expected at the next gathering in 2015.

“Within the coming months we will hold the UK’s largest-ever auction of mobile spectrum for 4G,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, in a media release on the regulator’s website. “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.”