Total available mobile spectrum in the UK will increase by about a fifth after the auction
The government has claimed a major leap in Britain’s ‘digital infrastructure revolution’, by announcing that the 700 MHz airwave band is clear for 5G auctions.
The announcement follows a four-year programme that involved retuning almost 20 million TV sets to lower frequencies to free up capacity for mobile phone services on the 700Mhz band.
About £350 million was spent on the project, according to government officials.
The government now plans to release 80MHz chunks of the free airwaves for mobile carriers at the auction, expected to take place in January 2021. It will enable mobile carriers to offer better services in Britain’s rural areas, as the 700MHz band is better-suited for delivering wide geographic coverage.
5G services in the country currently operate in the 3.4GHz range, which is suited for fast connections in urban areas, but has a short range.
As part of next year’s auction, the government also plans to sell off parts of the 3.6-3.8GHz spectrum band.
The total available spectrum for mobile services will increase by about a fifth when the frequencies are auctioned off in 2021.
Ofcom said last month that releasing these airwaves will help improve the quality and capacity of mobile data services.
“The smooth and successful completion of this massive infrastructure project ahead of schedule and under budget is a huge testament to the collaborative efforts of our partners,” Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said at the 5G World event.
The government first attempted to address the issue of inadequate connectivity in rural communities in October 2019. It announced the £1.3bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) project, aiming to end so-called mobile “notspots” and to provide high-quality 4G coverage to 95 per cent of premises by 2025.
Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said that the UK’s four major mobile operators – O2, EE, Vodafone and Three, all of which have launched 5G services – had agreed to provide half the cash for the £1 billion plan, under which masts would be shared in areas where only one provider has reception
Initial plans for the scheme included £530 million funding from the UK’s mobile operators and an additional £500 million investment from the government.
Morgan said mobile companies would face a fine up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover if they fail to meet their SRN obligations.
“If they cannot demonstrate that all reasonable efforts have been made to comply with the obligations, there are penalties for the operators,” Morgan said.