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Published on November 29th, 2012 | by Alexis Argent

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Ofcom unveils plans to avoid mobile ‘capacity crunch’

Ofcom have published plans to enable the release of new airwaves for future generations of mobile devices, which will help meet consumers’ growing demand for data on the move.

Alongside the announcement, Ofcom has published new data on the UK’s communications infrastructure, which shows that 20 million Gigabytes of data is now being consumed in a month over the country’s mobile networks – more than twice as much as last year (9 million Gigabytes). That is the equivalent of downloading 5 billion music tracks.

By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today. To help meet this demand and avert a possible ‘capacity crunch’, more mobile spectrum is needed over the long term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient. Ofcom is preparing plans now to support the release of spectrum for future mobile services, possibly ‘5G’, when the spectrum becomes available.

The plans aim to draw on the 700 MHz frequency band, which is currently used for digital terrestrial television, as part of future harmonised spectrum planning across Europe and the rest of the world. Releasing the new frequencies can be achieved without the need for another TV ‘switchover’.

It is important that different countries use the same frequencies of spectrum for mobile broadband to create economies of scale and widen the availability of handsets, which should in turn reduce prices for consumers.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, 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.”

The scale of demand for data in the UK is illustrated by Ofcom’s Infrastructure Report update, published today. While the arrival of 4G/LTE mobile networks will provide much-needed new bandwidth, fixed networks are also developing fast to keep pace with consumers’ growing use of the internet and other data-hungry services like video on demand. 4G mobile networks will also enable next generation 4G routers.

Wireless hotspots revealed

Ofcom understands that future internet bandwidth will need to come from a variety of sources, including public Wi-Fi hotspots. For the first time, Ofcom has mapped the distribution of these hotspots, which allow people to access fixed-line internet on mobile devices.

There are now 16,000 Wi-Fi indoor Solutions access points in places like cafés, transport hubs and other public spaces. However, consumers seem to prefer using their mobile network for internet access when out and about, rather than public Wi-Fi: around 25 times as much data is downloaded over mobile networks as over these Wi-Fi hotspots. This suggests there is an untapped opportunity for public Wi-Fi to help meet consumers’ growing thirst for data.

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