Spectrum is a valuable resource. It enables the delivery of a wide range of wireless services spanning television and radio through to mobile telephony, emergency services and outside broadcast event coverage. Through the many services it delivers, spectrum provides significant value to UK citizens and consumers.
Lower frequency spectrum is favoured by many popular services, including TV and mobile telephony, because it can pass through walls and other obstructions more easily than higher frequency spectrum, improving service coverage.
As the amount of low frequency spectrum is limited, it is important that the best possible use is made of it. A key challenge associated with doing this is that changing spectrum use can take more than a decade to achieve, especially where there is a need for new international agreements over its future use. In contrast, demand for spectrum by new wireless services and devices is changing at an accelerating pace.
The mobile sector is experiencing unprecedented growth in demand for mobile data, driven by the popularity of smartphones and tablet PCs. By 2030, mobile data demand could be 80 times higher than today. Meeting this increase could deliver significant benefits to consumers, through new and improved mobile data services. It could also sustain wider growth in the economy by improving the capability of the UK's mobile infrastructure.
If more low frequency spectrum were available to meet the growth in demand for mobile data, it would make a significant technical contribution to future mobile networks, also by providing better services in difficult to reach indoor and outdoor locations.
Mobile spectrum needs to be used on an international basis to provide the economies of scale necessary to ensure the wide availability of devices at reasonable cost. The only low frequencies likely to meet this requirement are part of the spectrum currently used by digital terrestrial television (DTT), and also accessed by equipment for entertainment programmes and live events. This spectrum (known as the 700 MHz band) is already used in the US and Asia to provide mobile broadband services and is set to become globally allocated for mobile use after the next World Radio Conference in 2015.
The DTT platform performs very important roles in providing low cost universal access to the public service TV channels and in sustaining viewer choice. Using additional low frequency spectrum for mobile broadband services may leave the DTT platform with insufficient TV channel capacity to continue to fulfil the roles it performs today. This is a potentially significant risk for UK citizens and consumers, because other TV delivery platforms including satellite, cable and IPTV are unlikely to provide a suitable alternative to DTT when additional low frequency spectrum is needed for mobile broadband.
Given the challenges set out above, we have decided to aim to secure the dual long term strategic objectives of providing more low frequency spectrum for mobile broadband whilst also securing the ongoing delivery of benefits provided by DTT. To achieve this we will:
The need for new international agreements makes it likely that none of these changes will take place until 2018 at the earliest. We intend to prepare for these changes in advance, working with relevant stakeholders, to reduce the disruption and cost of implementation.