Ofcom Offers Plan for Boosting Mobile Capacity

United Kingdom telecommunications regulator Ofcom has released a Consultation—“Mobile Data Strategy”— that outlines its plans for meeting the demand for spectrum for mobile data. Even without additional spectrum, Ofcom sees a potential to increase mobile data capacity by 30 times relative to 2012 capacity through the use of new technology such as small cells and improved network design. Adding in current priorities--700 MHz, 2.3 GHz, 3.4 GHz and UHF white space--brings the increase to 37 x by 2030.

The high priority bands, which are needed to increase capacity to 47 x 2012 levels, includes 3.6-3.8 GHz (part of the C-band downlink spectrum), as well as 1452-1492 MHz, 1980-2010 / 2170-2200 MHz (2 GHz MSS), 5350-5470 MHz and 5725-5925 MHz. The medium-high priority bands include the rest of the C-band downlink spectrum and 2.7-2.9 GHz. These “medium” priority bands include the entire UHF TV band at 470-694 MHz, plus the 450-470 MHz band used for two-way radio communications, and 1350-1518 MHz. In addition to commercial users, much of this spectrum is used by the Government for military communications. The United Kingdom is going through the same negotiations we've seen in the United States for reallocating government spectrum for mobile data.

Even though the UHF TV band is listed as a “medium” priority, during international negotiations on spectrum use, Ofcom says: “As regards the 470-694 MHz band, we will continue to engage in international discussions on the long term future of this band, and seek to ensure that consumers and citizens can continue to enjoy benefits delivered by Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and related Program Making and Special Event (PMSE) use of the band. However we also recognize that there may come a point, in the longer term future, when more of this band might be used for mobile data.”

Challenges to meeting this demand for spectrum for mobile data include “ensuring that the needs of existing users, such as broadcasters and users of wireless cameras and microphones, are appropriately protected.” The Consultation adds: “For example, we are currently working with users of wireless cameras and microphones to improve our understanding of their spectrum needs, the impact of changes in spectrum availability and options for the future.”

As regards use of C-band downlink spectrum, the Consultation says, “Additional spectrum in the 3.6 GHz band, which is currently used for satellites links, is another potential candidate. Mobile services should be able to share this band by coordinating with existing satellite users.”

The Ofcom news release Ofcom delivers blueprint for meeting future mobile demand calculates the increase in bandwidth a bit differently than the graph presented in the Consultation summary. It states: “When combined with developments in mobile technology, such as 5G, and the introduction of more advanced mobile networks, Ofcom estimates that this new spectrum could boost mobile data capacity by more than 25 times between now and 2030.”

For additional information, see the Ofcom Consultation Mobile Data Strategy dated Nov. 21, 2013. The closing date for responses is Jan. 30, 2014.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.