Ofcom is planning an auction of 700MHz spectrum as early as 2016, according to its consultation document published today.
The watchdog estimates that making the spectrum available to mobile will be worth between £900m and £1.3bn to the UK economy. The consultation document adds: ‘These benefits would be greater if mobile use started earlier.’
Ofcom is pushing for an early auction in response to increasing data usage, driven by the rise of smartphones. It estimates mobile data demand could be over 45 times greater than it is today by 2030.
It states: ‘Ensuring that the mobile sector is able to meet this increase in demand is an important part of making sure that the UK stays at the forefront of digital services and that citizens and consumers can enjoy the mobile data services they want and need.
Following the consultation period, which closes on 29 August this year, Ofcom says it will make its decision by late 2014 or early 2015’, with an auction date set for as early as 2016.
However Ofcom could see concerted opposition from the digital terrestrial television (DTT) and programme making and special events (PMSE) services providers who currently use the 700MHz band as well as other frequencies. The proposed change would see these services moved from the 700MHz band to other frequencies.
Both DTT and PMSE providers have already voiced concern over the proposals. However Ofcom has made clear in its consultation document that the switch will be handled ‘without compromising the benefits provided by DTT or PMSE, and without causing significant disruption to television viewers.’
Adrian Baschnonga, lead telecommunications analyst at Ernst and Young Global (EY) said the move was good news for mobile operators. He said: 'Ofcom's latest proposals regarding the repurposing of 700MHz spectrum come at a time when demand for mobile broadband has never been higher. Spectrum is both a finite resource and the lifeblood for a range of industry players. The latest consultation is good news for mobile operators who are currently facing the prospect of ongoing network investment to meet demand for mobile broadband.
‘Mobile data will be the leading driver of future spectrum needs and the regulator will face a difficult task balancing the needs of the mobile industry with other spectrum users, such as the digital TV industry. At the same time, the task of repurposing spectrum for mobile broadband stretches well beyond the 700MHz band. Looking ahead, approaches to spectrum management must provide a flexible framework that can adapt to evolving demand scenarios while accommodating international spectrum issues.’