4G auction not over, but time to start talking 5G
With 4G hardly off the starting line we are now talking about 5G. Ofcom last week published plans for the move towards using 700 MHz for mobile broadband, which is where FreeView currently lives. Though don't panic we are talking of around 2018 for this actually happening.
To many this will be a shock, but Ofcom has been quietly talking about this move, which is driven by the EU that wants to ensure that at least spectrum band works across all EU countries rather than the mish-mash that 4G is now. Also as we push mobile signals lower down the frequency spectrum the transmission range improves, but at the expense of having to shuffle around services like FreeView.
Some of the language of the Ofcom plan is almost apocalyptic with talk of a capacity crunch and mobile data usage rising 80 times higher than today by 2030. Which sounds massive, but this will only be fractionally higher than the amount used by fixed line broadband services today. Ofcom reports that mobile data is 20 million GigaBytes per year, up from 9 million GB the previous year, given the massive number of mobile handsets/dongles in the UK, this is brought back down to a figure that a lot easier to visualise and not so frightening. The average (assuming 20 million mobile data devices) mobile data usage is 83MB per month, up from 37MB per month the previous year.
We believe extrapolating this is a dangerous game, particularly as the last 2 years has seen the smartphone and tablet enter the mainstream, and once sales of these devices levels off we may see usage level off. This is particularly the case if 4G data services follow the pattern of EE where data pricing is based around a scarcity model.
FreeView boxes should actually cope pretty well with another change to the service, as the vast majority will just need a retune, though as with the current 4G roll-out there be some who need to play around with filters or changes to aerials, but this is some time away. The good news is for those who worked on the Digital Switchover and are now looking to work on the 4G interference mitigation, as this 700 MHz band change could mean they have a nice work load for the next decade.