Ofcom started the ball rolling on a consultation in April 2012 that will look into how the radio spectrum below 1GHz should be used. In particular whether the 700MHz spectrum should be allocated to mobile broadband, rather than services like Freeview.
Today sees Neelie Kroes, a vice-president of the European Commission and the lead behind its Digital Agenda called for both broadband providers and broadcasters to co-operate in this area. The key issue is that the radio spectrum is a limited resource, and squeezing too many uses into a small space can result in interference, hence the £180m set aside to deal with 4G and Freeview interference issues.
The rise of Over The Top (OTT) services, that provide television via broadband, rather than traditional transmission mechanisms, means that the need for large amounts of spectrum by digital TV are decreasing. Viewing habits have changed radically over the last few years, both as multi-channel TV divides viewing figures into ever more smaller chunks, but also as broadband allows people to watch TV on their own terms. Back in 1984, the Sinclair flat screen TV was cutting edge, but now with mobile broadband millions of us carry TV viewing devices just millimetres thick.
4G mobile broadband is sometimes touted as a fibre killer, which we feel is overstating the issue. Fixed line broadband will still win on speed, but for rural areas it may prove the most economic way of getting superfast broadband to the most hard to reach 1 to 2% of the population.
In urban areas or places like train stations, the extra frequency spectrum would allow more people to access the mobile data networks at the same time, and hopefully avoid the current problems where in a busy location like mainline station, airport, festival, football ground handshaking the connection is almost impossible. Of course investment in fibre backhaul for these busy areas will be crucial if new services are to perform better than 3G currently does. Which is where the consultation on leased line pricing by Ofcom comes into play.